There are so many reasons why Will Ashcroft is widely – and emphatically, for many – considered the best player in the 2022 draft class by AFL club recruiters.
But ask any of his fellow prospects about what makes the Lions father-son gun the standout No. 1 and nearly all of them circle back to one characteristic: His professionalism.
Ashcroft, the son of triple premiership Lion Marcus Ashcroft, on Monday night will officially join the Brisbane Lions at the AFL draft after one of the most impressive, near flawless, draft years ever produced.
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The 18-year-old claimed almost every honour possible, both individually and collectively. He won the Larke Medal for best player at the national championships and was named in the Under 18 All-Australian team as his side, Vic Metro, completed an undefeated campaign. He was also the Sandringham Dragons’ premiership captain and was named best on ground in the NAB League grand final – days after being named NAB League Team of the Year captain.
Put simply, Ashcroft dominated at every level he played – including in a couple VFL games for the Lions.
One recruiter told foxfooty.com.au mid-year Ashcroft “could play AFL this week” as he was on a “different level” to the rest of his peers in their 18th years.
It seems remarkable, therefore, that Ashcroft is unlikely to attract a bid from the GWS Giants at Pick 1, with Vic Country key forward Aaron Cadman instead set to be given the honour.
Take nothing away from Cadman, for he’s been a star at NAB League and national level this year. Heck, he even impressed the Giants so much they traded up to Pick 1 to ensure they could secure their top prospect. And the club no doubt would feel like they should respect their bold move and honour their significant investment in Cadman by declaring him their No. 1 man.
But when asked by foxfooty.com.au last month which player he’d take if he was a recruiter with Pick 1, Cadman even said with a laugh: “You can‘t go past Will Ashcroft.
“Just how switched on he is, his competitiveness and just how professional he is when it comes to footy – that’s pretty rare.”
There’s that word again: Professional.
Jeremy Cameron’s advice for Cadman | 01:47
It’s an Ashcroft strength that’s blatantly clear to both his opponents and teammates.
“He’s put all the runs on the board and showed that he can do it at any level and do it so consistently. But just his professionalism, I think it’s going to set him up for a great career,” fellow Sandringham Dragons prospect Harry Sheezel told foxfooty.com.au.
“To see what he does and how it all translates onto the field, it’s really inspiring.”
As Ashcroft completed most of his schooling in Queensland, he finished his studies before his 18th year.
It meant the star midfielder essentially lived as an unofficial full-time professional footballer this year. And it means he’ll enter the AFL environment as ready-made as any player that’s been drafted before him.
“I‘ve never seen someone who knows what he wants to do when he wants to do it,” Dragons star and top-10 prospect Cam Mackenzie told foxfooty.com.au. “And he has a specific way of doing things and it definitely works for him.
“The professional aspect, you can definitely notice it and I think that‘s part of the reason why he’s so good and why he’s had such a successful year, both from an individual and team perspective.”
West Adelaide’s Harry Lemmey said of Ashcroft to foxfooty.com.au. “He’s very elite off the field, which is the main thing, and then on the field he’s a contested beast. He’s fast, hits well on disposal – to me he’s the clear No. 1.”
Fellow Brisbane father-son prospect Jaspa Fletcher, who’s also set to join the Lions on Monday night via the draft, said he received a glimpse into Ashcroft’s competence in May.
“I was pretty lucky to room with him for the Australia-Collingwood game and just the preparation he does before a game and that night after the game then in the morning, it’s second to none,” Fletcher told foxfooty.com.au.
“He’s shown why he’s one of the best in the crop. He‘s just so professional the way he goes about it.
Dragons teammate Olli Hotton added: “You look at the GPS each week, he just works really hard on the field but also off the field. He’s very professional – and has had a professional mindset for years, so that’s a massive credit to him.
“He’s talked about a few times the work he puts in pre-season and on off days as well, he‘s doing a lot. So he’s really well prepared each week and he’s always going over vision.”
But while Hotton has been a long-time admirer of Ashcroft’s on-field ability, it’s his leadership and humility that’s just as noteworthy.
“He‘s always trying to help everyone else other than himself. He really took on that captaincy role and he’s made a lot of us better as well,” Hotton said.
For Ashcroft, the ability to help others has been “probably one of my growth areas I’ve improved on over the last couple of years”. And it’s also led to his impressive new business venture.
Ashcroft on Tuesday will launch WASH Performance and Wellbeing – a development program where he’ll coach young teenagers who want to perform at a high level in any sport about training performance, wellbeing and nutrition.
“It’s about just starting to build some strong habits in a young person, say 12 years old, where you can start doing some things surrounding nutrition and recovery, extra training outside of football that can better you physically and mentally,” Ashcroft told foxfooty.com.au. “Nothing too crazy like AFL level stuff, but it’s just building some good habits that you can build on.
“I think that’s what I was lucky to have with my dad around and my mum. Obviously Dad played footy so he knew a fair bit around that professional stuff, so he really helped me as a young person get into it a bit and then I sort of took it from there.
“I think that’s what I’m trying to help younger guys do is to just get a little bit of a taste of it and then see where they want to take it themselves.”
Ashcroft said he was “always relatively professional as a younger player”, but added he quickly realised if he wanted to have a red-hot crack at making an AFL career, especially moving into his 17th and 18th years, he’d have to “take my professionalism to the next level and just leave no stone unturned”.
“It’s not difficult for me to live a professional lifestyle because I really enjoy it,” he said.
The Brisbane Lions are on the verge of drafting one of the most impressive prospects, both on and off the field, we’ve seen in years.
And it appears they won’t have to pay the maximum price for him.