EMERGING Horsham Saints footballer Darcy Tucker will take the next step in his sporting career when he flies out to New Zealand today, representing Australia as part of a 30-player AIS-AFL Academy squad.
The 16-year-old Saint and North Ballarat Rebels player received a 12-month AIS-AFL Academy level one scholarship in August last year after featuring in Victoria Country's under-16 national championships victory.
The scholarship saw Tucker undertake training camps in Melbourne in September and the Gold Coast in November.
This third camp culminates with Australia's under-17 team taking on an open-age New Zealand Hawks side at Wellington's Westpac Stadium on January 25.
Tucker said he was excited about the opportunities ahead. "I'm rapt, I can't wait," he said.
"We have a fair few trainings and travel to a few different places, a hike in the mountains and rafting as well."
"I'm just hoping to soak in the experience and to develop my game."
The up-and-coming footballer said he had been doing a bit of research into football in New Zealand.
He said he would be representing his country to the best of his abilities.
"I haven't heard a lot about it, but I've been looking a bit on the internet," Tucker said.
"They're really trying to breed and promote the game over there in New Zealand.
"With the game, I'll just be trying to play my best."
He said the AIS-AFL experience had been invaluable to his development as a footballer in a number of ways.
"So far I've learnt a hell of a lot, both on and off the field, whether it's eating or training, or setting goals and the mental side of it," Tucker said.
Three-time Brisbane Lions premiership player Chris Johnson coaches the level one squad.
Tucker said there were other AFL legends involved in coaching roles, including Matthew Lloyd, Brad Johnson, Brad Ottens, Glen Jakovich and Tadgh Kennelly.
The Horsham Saint is the third Wimmera-Mallee player in as many years to participate in the scholarship program, following Kalkee's Tanner Smith, now at Fremantle, and Walpeup-Underwood's Dallas Willsmore, who was recently drafted to Hawthorn.
However, Tucker's prodigious sporting talent extends beyond the football field, as showcased by his efforts on the basketball court with the Horsham Hornets. The Horsham teenager is one of the men's side's leading players, averaging 19.7 points per game, including a season-high 42-point game against Stawell little over a month ago.
After making his TAC Cup debut with North Ballarat last year as a 16-year-old in between playing under-17 and senior matches with Saints, Tucker has set his sights on a big year with the Rebels.
"It's my bottom age year, so I'm doing my pre-season now and planning to play the whole year," he said.
"I played a few games last year, and that puts me in good stead.
Tucker said a number of people had influenced his football, including his father Leigh, former Saints' coach Brendan Broadbent, Rebels' coaches David Loader and Phil Partington, and his Vic Country coaches.
Partington, the Rebels region manager, had nothing but praise for Tucker as an athlete as well as a person. "Darcy is a fantastic athlete, with good endurance and speed and the skillset as well, which he keeps developing," Partington said.
"He's very, very professional and diligent with his preparation for games.
"He's a really polite young man and very determined, I think that's the same with his school."
Partington said Tucker's showed some extremely positive signs at the Rebels as a 16-year old.
"Usually the boys who play as 16-year olds go on to have a successful football career, at the Rebels or at a VFL or AFL level," he said.
"Some of the games he played at the Rebels in 2013 showed he can go further."