As a breezy, spring day warms Melbourne’s Federation Square, several seagulls swoop to investigate food scraps, discarded on the sandstone steps. A young woman jumps sideways, like a child leaping between stepping-stones, avoiding the harebrained path of the gulls.
Accompanying her is a young man who is tan and blonde dressed in blue shorts and a stripy t-shirt. He seems like an ordinary teenager – jovial, fit and playful. But on second glance, his stock-standard cropped hairdo and the bulging biceps that extend from his t-shirt, reveal that Brenton Rees is in fact one of Geelong’s most promising football talents. It is this great potential along with his success over the last two years that resulted in his debut for Geelong’s VFL football team earlier this year.
From the small town of Sale, in Gippsland, Brenton possesses many of those country traits that are highly valued in society – he is quite clearly down-to-earth, hard working and family-orientated. He speaks fondly of his parents; his mum who he is in contact with everyday (“she’s always sending me massive messages,” he laughs) and his dad, who took him to frequent football games at the MCG when he was a child. It is clear that Brenton largely attributes his passion for football to his football-loving father.
After playing junior football at his local country clubs, Brenton was selected to train with Gippsland Power Football Club, part of the under 18s, TAC Cup competition.
Gippsland Power, or “Power” as it is affectionately dubbed locally, boasts AFL alumni such as Dale Thomas, Scott Pendlebury, Leigh Brown and Brendan Goddard. Success stories such at these, contribute to Power’s reputation as a quality grounding for ambitious country footballers.
Geelong VFL and Academy manager, Troy Selwood, says country football clubs such as Gippsland Power provide a quality experience for young footballers with big dreams.
Selwood says, “Development pathways such as Gippsland’s are a great launching pad into successful senior careers.”
Brenton agrees. He says seeing ex-Power players in the AFL is very inspirational, showing that with enough talent and hard work, country footballers can make it in the big leagues.
“Seeing people from Sale and Gippsland that have made it to the top level, it shows that you can do it as well. It’s pretty motivational.”
After playing two years of football with Power, Brenton finished year 12 and moved to Geelong to study exercise and sport science at Deakin University.
Speaking to Brenton he seems like a regular teenager, particularly by the number of times he uses colloquial teenage language such as “like” and “yeah.” Though he has had limited experience of the media so far, he remains eloquent and wise when questioned about balancing university with social, sport and family commitments.
“You’ve just got to try and find that right balance between training, having a social life and study obviously.”
Brenton has obviously managed to find that balance, evident in his strong relationships, his commitment to his studies and his success on the football field. On first moving to Geelong in 2014, Brenton played with St Josephs Football and Netball Club, a team in the Geelong Football League, where his football skills led him to win the league Rookie of the Year Award.
Brenton is humble about this. It might be expected for such fame to impact a 19-year-old boy, however he brushes off this and other compliments, insisting that he is the same as everyone else. Though he adds, “it was pretty cool to be recognised”.
After what Troy Selwood labeled a “very consistent season in his first year of senior football,” Brenton was selected to train and then play with Geelong’s VFL football team.
“Brenton went on the play 16 VFL matches in his debut season with us this year – which went well beyond any of our expectations. We were thrilled for him,” said Selwood.
It is easy to feel happy for someone who has, and continues to, work so hard to achieve his goals. Not only is he driven in daily life, Brenton has also garnered respect on the football field itself for his hard-working style of play.
“Brenton is an extremely honest and driven midfielder. He builds his game off his elite endurance and ability to cover the ground. He runs all day! Brenton also has a very mature body, and is very strong over and around the ball. He doesn’t get knocked to ground. His teammates love playing with him because they think he is tough, selfless and willing to execute his role on match day,” says Troy Selwood.
General Manager of Gippsland Power, Peter Francis, says Brenton is admired by his teammates for his skills as a quality midfielder and his genuine nature.
“He’s a really good, lovely boy from a good family. He’s really well liked and popular among his teammates.”
While he has continuously worked hard, success has not always come easy to Brenton. He recalls his time playing under 18s football for Gippsland Power as the most challenging of his football career so far.
“I didn’t have the best year in under 18s top age at Gippsland Power. I wasn’t playing in the mid field or anything and I got dropped a few times– it wasn’t the best year.”
But with dedication to the sport he has loved since he was a child and determination to succeed, Brenton went back to his country football roots and practiced those things Power required of him.
And with a year of VFL now completed, Brenton is on his way to living the life he dreamed of as a child.
“Ever since I was a kid I was always kicking the footy, commentating my own games and stuff… I always loved watching footy and I always thought it would be pretty cool to be one of those footy players.”
While he is not there yet, Brenton is still ambitious – his current goals are to finish his degree, to play the highest level of football possible and to become a well-rounded, good person.
“To play the highest level [of football] I possibly can, and just to become the best person I possibly can be, whether that be in just general life or in football as well [is my goal].”
However, Brenton strikes you as the type of person who will not stop there; he will continue to monitor and self-improve even after his goal of becoming “one of those footy players” is realised. And when it is, the AFL world will be lucky to have someone as hard working, genuine and kind hearted as Brenton Rees.