‘The Box Hill pathway” – Is Hawthorn leading the charge for a new-age way of recruiting in the AFL?

Sam Mitchell. Ned Reeve. Jai Newcombe. Lachlan blackberry. Jacob Blanck. Fergus Green.

Just some of the names Hawthorn have recruited from their VFL affiliate side, the Box Hill Hawks.

The alignment between the two clubs began in 2001 and has seen 16 players jump from twos to ones in various off-seasons.

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Reeves is calling this “The Box Hill Pathway” for the 2018 preseason.

“It’s a bit of a running joke (at the club),” the 24-year-old said in an interview with The sports news.

“The year before me there was David Mirra, me from Box Hill, Lachie Bramble, Jai Newcombe, James Blanck, Fergus Greene.

“There are so many examples over the last five, six years where mature players or 19, 20-year-old players have been overlooked… but that’s where you can find hidden treasure.”

In late 2021, the two clubs extended their agreement through 2026, continuing the legacy of being the longest-running VFL-AFL alignment in history.

That would come as no surprise given the success of what is arguably the greatest player in club history to leap from Box Hill to Hawthorn legend status.

Let’s go back to 2001.

Senior Hawthorn coach Mitchell was initially overlooked in the 2000 draft, according to his autobiography, and was called “too short, too fat and too slow” to make AFL. Relentless.

Determined to prove doubters wrong, the 2012 Brownlow medalist was happily picked up from Box Hill, where he quickly became one of the reserve’s top midfielders.

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In 2001, Mitchell was part of the VFL Premiership team and volunteered again for the draft.

His form and skills were impressive, so much so that AFL team veterans Shane Crawford, Daniel Chick and Jade Rawlings went to the club and said, “This kid’s good… we’ve got to call him up.”

Later that year the Hawks drafted Mitchell with pick 36 and it’s safe to say the rest is history.

Hawthorn’s second chance with his now senior manager grew into a Brownlow medal, four flags (2008, 2013-15), Premiership captain (2008-2010), five-time Peter Crimmins medalist and the 2003 Rising Star Award.

After a successful playing career, Mitchell entered the coaching field and after a brief stint on the West Coast, returned to where it all began: Box Hill.

The then 39-year-old was appointed senior manager in 2021, took a close look at some talented players and began making plans for the future.

Hawthorn brokered a deal that saw Alastair Clarkson hand the reins to Mitchell in 2023 and carry on in some capacity, which fell through, resulting in the succession plan starting a year earlier.

Mitchell’s penchant for overlooked Box Hill players came into play when four players were added to the senior roster in the past two years.

Newcombe, Bramble, Blanck and Greene are all AFL listed after serving in the VFL and are hoping to make their mark at the elite level.

Former club president Ian Dicker attributed Hawthorn’s continued success in the 2010s to the development program between Box Hill and the senior team.

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“I think the other achievement is the development of players, particularly through Box Hill and the system within the Box Hill and Hawthorn teams that allows for forced development of players. [Box Hill] was a really good area for development,” Dicker said loudly Age.

“Box Hill… we recognized that we had to develop young players and allow injured players to return.

“I think that’s a really important part of the club’s success. By far the most important part is Alastair, however [Box Hill] is part of it.”

Hawthorn’s commitment to the development of his young players looks at the current status of the team and their bold strategy for the future.

Mitchell gave insight on the next steps for the club and what fans can expect.

“We had a really clear list management strategy, we knew what we wanted to achieve, we knew what we thought it would take to be successful,” Mitchell said.

“Do we have a plan to lose all these players (Mitchell, Gunston, O’Meara)? Not necessarily. But it fits with the strategy we have and I’m really happy with the group we have now. ” it really feels like this is the group that will move forward together.”

Mitchell hinted that given that no other clubs begin rebuilding in 2023, Hawthorn has an advantage in terms of draft capital, free agents and overall talent going forward.

“I think we’re in a younger place now, we can do some things with salary cap or contract design and maybe in the next few years look for free agency that other clubs can’t because they haven’t done it that way like us,” Mitchell said.

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“That gives us a difference, and when you make a list and create a strategy, when you try to do what everyone else is doing, the resources are finite, so I’m really confident in the direction we’re going.”

Hawthorn enter 2023 as the youngest (23.1 years) and least experienced (42.6 games) team.

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