By Andrew Jackson,
Taking out the No. 1 spot in this year’s NEAFL ‘Top 20 players to watch’ countdown, Ryan Hebron has long been recognised as one of the competition’s elite athletes.
And now, his hard work may finally be rewarded after being selected as a potential AFL draft prospect.
After starting out his junior footy at St. Ives and North Shore, Hebron joined the Sydney Swans’ NEAFL Development Squad in 2016 as an under-19 academy member.
He says that this experience challenged him to get to the position he is in today.
“Obviously coming up through the Swans academy was a massive help because you are playing and training with some of the best players in the Sydney area,” he says.
“It set me the benchmark that I had to get to.”
Equally important to him has been his time at Sydney University, where Hebron, a scholarship holder, studies a Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise Physiology).
He says that the university’s Elite Athlete Program has played an important role in helping him maintain a healthy balance between his commitments to study and sport.
“The Elite Athlete Program helped me a lot with balancing study commitments and AFL commitments,” he says.
“They are always there for you, whatever you need.
“I don’t think I’d be able to balance everything if it wasn’t for their support.”
On the field, Hebron has achieved several accolades while donning the blue and gold, the most prestigious of which being awarded University Blue last year.
Hebron appreciates development coach Lloyd Perris’ dedication as development coach and the role he has played in his growth as a player.
“Lloyd really has so much time for all the boys and he really encourages you to get the most out of your footy,” he says.
“I owe a lot to him.”
Hebron’s success is no surprise for Perris, who believes he is more than ready to make the transition into the top grade.
“He is physically mature, very strong and he’s got an elite jump,” he says.
“He’s also mentally mature – he’s definitely a readymade athlete at this stage.”
With 137 marks to his name in 2018, including several intercepts, Hebron has proved himself to be one of the league’s strongest defenders.
It is a point that isn’t lost with Perris.
“His marking is his biggest trait on the footy field,” he says.
“He leads the NEAFL in marks this year and his ability to read the play means he has all the attributes you want in a rebounding defender.”
Perris also maintains that Hebron’s success is not just a product of natural talent.
Rather, he also praises the 21-year-old’s work ethic and positive attitude to feedback as clear indications that Hebron would be the perfect candidate for any potential AFL club.
“He’s great to work with… he’s always the first to want to go through vision and seek feedback,” he says.
“He’s always trying to improve and is always on the front foot with his development.
“If any club gave him a chance he’s definitely a readymade athlete at this stage.”
While Hebron’s focus is on leading the Students to glory in this year’s NEAFL competition, he admits that the opportunity to be drafted into the AFL is all he has ever wanted.
And after missing out on selection in 2017, he is even more determined to prove he has what it takes to succeed at the top level.
“There’s nothing that comes close to how much I want to play in the AFL,” he says.
“I take footy so seriously because I love it so much.
“It [being drafted into the AFL] is really the main goal.”