When Jake Stein was told he would be making his AFL debut, the 25-year-old former decathlete couldn’t believe it.
Mentally he was preparing to play against Redland in Brisbane on Saturday rather than against North Melbourne at Blundstone Arena in Hobart on Sunday.
“I thought Bunts (Matt Buntine) would come in for Haynesy, it would be kind of a straight swap, and I’d be off to Queensland playing Redland this Saturday in the NEAFL so I was pretty shocked,” he said after his debut was announced in front of the playing group on Thursday.
Thursday’s announcement completed a remarkable journey for Stein which began when his running coach and then GIANTS Head of Academies and Pathways Manager John Quinn encouraged the former Commonwealth Games representative to take up Football.
“In 2016 I gave up Athletics, I spoke to Quinny about starting footy and he got me involved here,” Stein said.
“I’d been watching footy for five or six years at that time and thought ‘how cool would it have been to actually be an AFL player one day’, but I never thought it was really a possibility.
“Quinny got me here and three years have gone by so it’s been a nice journey so far.”
It wasn’t as simple as it sounds.
Stein was an elite athlete competing in ten events – 100m sprint, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m, 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, Javelin, 1500m – across two days but that didn’t necessarily mean he was ready for the rigors of AFL.
Over a number of weeks Stein honed his skills under the watchful eye of Quinn and then GIANTS assistant coach Luke Power.
Then he auditioned in front of Head Coach Leon Cameron and General Manager of Football Wayne Campbell.
Now with his debut against North Melbourne in Hobart just days away, Stein looks back on that day and remembers he doubted he would ever make it.
“The day Leon and Campbo came out (to watch) probably not, because I was kicking the ball terribly that day. I was probably as nervous as I am today,” he said.
“I thought maybe there’s a chance but they just said there’s a slight chance and I thought maybe if I work hard then it’s possible, but I wasn’t counting my chickens.
“I was lucky enough to get the chance and somehow ended up here.”
Arriving at the GIANTS as a Category B rookie, it didn’t take too long for Stein to settle in as he had crossed paths with a few of the GIANTS before.
“I had an ice bath with Phil (Davis) and Cal (Ward) back in 2012, I didn’t know who they were and they didn’t have a clue who I was,” he said.
“That was my first time meeting them and now I’m catching up with them every day, training with them, we go out to lunch and coffee.
“We’re good mates but back then I didn’t even know who they were, so times have changed."
While Stein works closely with Davis in the GIANTS backline and will play alongside him for the first time on Sunday, there have been a number of GIANTS who have helped him along the way.
The journey hasn’t been easy with Stein getting a baptism of fire down back during the GIANTS 2017 NEAFL season.
The first year was tough, we lost a few games in the NEAFL and got belted a bit so as a defender coming in it was pretty tough learning on the go and getting belted at the same time,” he recalls.
“The boys have helped me so much. Last year in particular we had a few more senior boys so Keeffey (Lachie Keeffe) came in and helped a lot.
“Bunts (Matt Buntine) coming back from his knee helped hugely, Tim Mohr was massive for me.
“Having those guys in the twos every week was huge for me and just learning off your Phil’s Haynesy, the emerging Sam Taylor, they’ve been massive for me.”
While making his debut is exciting enough and he has experienced the pride of representing his country, Stein is most excited about representing Western Sydney when he pulls on the orange and charcoal jumper on Sunday.
Born and raised in Penrith it’s been a dream of his to represent the area he’s loved since childhood.
“It’s massive, when I was younger I wanted to play Rugby League,” he said.
“The Penrith Panthers were the thing, but once the GIANTS became a thing, it was huge for the community and it’s just grown over the last eight years.
“To be able to go out there and represent Western Sydney will be absolutely massive.
“I’m a Westie at heart and always will be.”