When the footy season is on, James Lugsdin likes to dive head-first under packs, going as hard as he can to win the ball.
In the off-season, James is just as fearless. In his spare time, the year-eight student from Sydney’s northern beaches likes to jump off cliffs.
“My friends and I go exploring all over Sydney to find the best places to cliff-jump into the water,’’ James said.
His favourite is the Warriewood blowhole, 13 metres high. He says his mum and dad are “pretty chilled’’ about his hobby.
“My friends and I really check it out first to make sure the water is deep enough. It’s all been fine so far; a few belly flops but nothing bad.’’
Which is good news, because James is one of the stand-outs in the under-14s squad at the QBE Sydney Swans Academy.
James was rewarded for his work ethic when Academy General Manager Chris Smith chose him to hand out jumpers to the Swans' senior players at the annual Guernsey Presentation earlier this month.
“It was awesome, being right next to the players was so cool,’’ James said. “I was so surprised and happy when I found out that I’d been asked to be at the Guernsey Presentation."
James, along with Sienna Julian from the Academy’s under-13s Youth Girls Program squad, had the honour of representing the Academy and being on stage with the players.
He spoke to Lance Franklin and Callum Mills, and he says his favourite players are Luke Parker and Isaac Heeney because they go really hard at the ball.
“It was inspiring being there, seeing all the new young players get their jumpers. I was picturing myself doing that one day, thinking that would be so cool,’’ James said.
He started Auskick at the North Ryde Dockers when he was four years old and now plays for the Manly Bombers.
A tenacious midfielder, he was runner-up in the competition-wide best and fairest last year, and in 2017 was selected to represent NSW in the under-12s team at the national schools carnival.
James has impressed Smith since he joined the Academy as an 11-year-old.
“He’s a stand-out for his age group, very focussed, and a skilful competitor,’’ Smith said.
James paid tribute to the Academy for helping to improve his skills and game sense.
“There are 14 players from the Manly Bombers under-14s team in the Swans Academy which really helps when we play together,’’ he said.
He has dreams of being drafted to the Swans, as does Sienna, who is in year seven and plays for the East Sydney Bulldogs.
She is a multi-talented sportswoman who’s a state-level runner and only began playing football last year.
Sienna was part of the Academy’s inaugural intake of Youth Girls, and her mum says she is "mildly obsessed" with football and has her sights set on playing for the Swans when they have a team in the AFLW in a few years.
Smith says she has great potential.
“We’ve played Sienna in the ruck and she’s very mobile and athletic so she gets all around the ground. If she keeps working hard I think she can go a long way,’’ Smith said.
Each year, two Academy members are chosen to help with formalities at the Swans Guernsey Presentation held just before the season starts.