WHEN Ollie Wines flew home from the draft two years ago and started packing for Port Adelaide, he looked so white and worried that his mother told him he didn't have to go, that there were so many things he could and would be good at.
The idea made him think, and realise very quickly that the only thing he wanted was to go.
By the time he left Echuca, his bags were filled with more than just his clothes: he took old birthday cards, a doorstop shaped like a clown that his grandmother gave him when he was little, framed photo collages and even some small coin trays.
Later, he asked his mum to bring him some of the tiger lily candles she used to burn at home.
"He took all his little things with him, and I think that was Ollie's way of saying, 'I'm not going there just to play football, I'm going there because it's my choice and because I'm going to be there for a long time," Jane Wines said.
"He still looked like a truck had hit him, 24 hours after the draft, but once he thought about it, it was like this weight lifted because he remembered it was what he had always wanted to do. And once Ollie decides to do something, he invests in it. He still had his home here, but he took a lot of it away with him, too."
It surprised very few people that Wines made as much of his debut season last year as he did: he was big, brave, strong, tough and had a habit of not giving in, something Port Adelaide recruiting manager Geoff Parker noticed when he travelled to Europe with the AIS-AFL Academy group that Wines was part of. It was impossible not to.
The group was a good one, with Joe Daniher, Brodie Grundy, Jake Stringer, Nick Vlastuin, Sam Mayes, Lachie Whitfield, Jack Viney, Jimmy Toumpas, Jesse Lonergan, Lachie Plowman and Troy Menzel in the team of 30.
One day, at the end of a long training session on a soccer pitch in a small, northern Italian town called Gavirate, the boys were paired off as part of a one-on-one contested drill. A ball was thrown out in front of them and they had to fight for it and keep fighting, no matter how long it took for someone to clearly win it. They then had to do it a second and then third time before joining the queue and waiting for their next turn. They did it knowing they were being watched by recruiters just a few metres away.
Wines was pitted against Stringer, his teammate from Bendigo, and they kept going, going and going. "It told you everything you needed to know, about both of them," Parker said. "I remember they were the last two to go through, and they just kept smashing into each other, over and over. I don't think I'll ever forget it. I still say to my wife now, 'you should have seen Ollie that day in Italy'.
"When he won a centre clearance on the weekend, at the start of the third quarter, I thought about it again. For me, what Ollie did on Saturday night was exactly what he did in that drill. When the contest was on he was going to compete until the end no matter what. He was the sort of kid we needed because of the way he could compete physically, and it's exactly what he's been able to do."
And keep doing, which has surprised even fewer people.
Brad Ebert had a feeling Wines would settle quickly into the Port Adelaide team last year because he was strong enough to cope what whatever came his way physically. But he thinks one of the reasons his second season has been even better is because he is able to listen, absorb information and do the things his teammates need him to do, without them having to keep too much of an eye out for him.
"Our coaches are really good with the younger guys. They don't make things too complicated or hard for them to comprehend, but Ollie doesn't seem to need to hear things too many times. It sinks in pretty quickly with him and I think that's helped him adjust as well as he has," Ebert said.
"He has this way of taking on information, he's got a really good work ethic and I don't think anything's set with him, it's not as if he's already as good as he's going to be. He's always wanting to improve, to work on things and take the next step, and I'm sure that's only going to continue. He's got that really hard-at-it approach on the ground, but off it he just wants to know what he can do to get better."
His mother can see new things still occurring to him, too. Jane Wines watched Ollie play on TV last week with his younger brother Harry, and thought he looked almost too respectful of Nat Fyfe, David Mundy, Michael Barlow and the rest of the Fremantle midfield.
"He loves those players and we could see Ollie looking at them as if to say, 'I don't really want to tackle you'," Jane said. "Then he came out after half-time and got that first ball and I said to Harry, 'he's been growled at'. And that's all that would have happened. Ollie doesn't need to be growled at very often, he always responds and I think what's happened now is that he's starting to see footy as his job.
"Last year it was just footy, it was new and it was fun, but now we can see him really start going to work. It's a brutal, aggressive industry he's gone into but he enjoys that and he knows football can only ever be there for a short while. I don't think he wants to waste any of his time."