STEVEN Morris - the son of dual Richmond premiership player Kevin Morris - has taken a hard road towards achieving his AFL dream.
The mature-age recruit has been named in the Tigers' squad of 34 for the opening round of the NAB Cup on Friday night, and Morris is considered a likely starter as a small defender in the Tigers' round one match against Carlton in the opening round of the Toyota AFL premiership season.
His possible AFL debut - if his NAB Cup campaign goes to plan - would be reward for his toughness and dedication, and an excellent pre-season.
Morris hasn't enjoyed an easy path into the AFL system. He's 23. He spent three years with TAC Cup the Western Jets and another three at SANFL club West Adelaide before finally, in his fourth season with the Bloods, he had a breakout year that earned the attention of AFL scouts.
GWS pre-listed him before the 2011 NAB National Draft and then swapped him to Richmond for pick 14. GWS in turn gave Richmond pick 15 (GWS used its No.14 pick to select Devon Smith from the Geelong Falcons while Richmond used its No.15 pick on the Calder Cannons' Brandon Ellis).
"It's always been a dream of mine to play AFL footy," Morris told AFL.com.au.
His father, a half-back and ruck-rover, was a member of Richmond's 1973 and '74 premiership teams and he won the club's best and fairest in 1975. After 110 games at Richmond, he played 71 at Collingwood.
Steven grew up seeing his father's premiership medallions on the mantelpiece at the family home in Toolern Vale, just past Melbourne's western suburbs. He's been given his father's Richmond guernsey, No.38, for the 2012 season.
Steven's journey was rocky from the beginning. At 16, he had stress fractures in his shins and calves. In a bid to break the cycle, he spent part of the following season at Amateurs club St Bernard's, where he trained only lightly on Thursday nights.
Morris said he benefited greatly from the lighter workload, but also the opportunity to play against men. His coach at St Bernard's, Essendon great Simon Madden, said Morris set himself apart with his single-mindedness and ability to listen.
"He could turn on a dime, and deliver the ball really well," Madden said.
Morris trained at Richmond, Collingwood, Essendon and Melbourne while at the Jets. After being overlooked for the draft, he believed it was time to start afresh at an interstate club.
He chose West Adelaide. His father had coached the Bloods to the 1991 Grand Final (which they lost to North Adelaide) and there were other close links with the club.
The West Adelaide coach, Andy Collins, had been a colleague of Kevin's when they were assistant coaches at St Kilda. And Steven was keen to play in the SANFL because he believed it would suit his style of in-and-under football more than the VFL.
In his first season, when he was 19, he failed to set the world on fire. He improved the next season only to wreck his right knee in round 20, damaging the anterior cruciate ligament and sidelining himself for what he was told would be the best part of a year.
He returned after 10 months.
"It triggered something inside me," he said of the injury. "It taught me how to really work hard, that if I want something bad enough I can get it.
"I just wanted to play footy. Once I was back playing footy, I really set my sights on getting the best out of myself."
Morris gained further respect from West Adelaide clubmen for his ferocious approach in his return match, in round 11 in 2010. He played out the season, but was a bit scratchy. Those games did, however, prepare him for his breakthrough season.
There was one knock on Morris before 2011: his ability to get the ball.
His father, who's been an assistant coach at Essendon, St Kilda and Richmond, told AFL.com.au
that Steven is the most unselfish player he's seen at junior level. While most talented juniors do a lot of showboating, Steven spent his teenage years chasing, tackling and smothering.
"Usually you've got to teach players to do that sort of thing," said Kevin, who breeds horses. "I told him he's got to get a lot more of the footy."
In 2011 Steven began in customary fashion when he was given stopping roles. Then, in uncustomary fashion, he began running the ball out of the backline.
"I started to run and carry the ball," he said. "That made a big difference to my confidence."
By mid-way through the season he was getting 25 possessions a game. AFL clubs were looking.
At the end of the season he won West Adelaide's best and fairest and was named in the back pocket in the SANFL's Team of the Year. No longer was he held back by his unselfishness.
"It (unselfishness) probably held me back in my ambitions to get drafted," Morris said. "Recruiters do pick up players who find a lot of the ball, and I wasn't a real possession player.
"It's no surprise that when I started finding a bit of the ball, that's when I got picked up."
Morris said he had his sights set on playing the Blues in the opening round of the AFL season.
"I'm doing everything I possibly can to put my hand up," he said.
"There's no guarantees. I'm just working away at it, and hopefully I'll be running out against Carlton."
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The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs