FOR a teenager who eats, sleeps and breathes soccer, Mac Hilson is about to live the dream.
The 16-year-old from Bendigo will move to England this week to continue his schooling and to fast-track his development in the game he loves.
Hilson, who will study at Brook House College in Market Harbour, Leicestershire (about an hour from London), will join the school's prestigious football academy on a partial two-year scholarship.
It's the latest giant and exciting step in his sporting progression that has already included state and Victoria Country representation and a stint this season with NPL1 powerhouse South Melbourne at under-19 level.
He also represented Australia in futsal in the United States in 2016.
While it's a bold move for a 16-year-old, to be away from family and friends during a serious health pandemic, it's one Hilson is undertaking with more than one eye on the future and plenty of anticipation and excitement.
"It's a great opportunity for me - I'm grateful to my parents (Greg and Nikki) for allowing me to do this,' he said.
"It's something that can only enhance my career as a football player.
"To go forward, it's the best opportunity I'll have to progress myself.
"It's not something many people my age get to do, so I really need to take this opportunity.
"It's a big thing, moving away from family, but I am looking forward to it."
The move has been a couple of years in the making.
Hilson was awarded the scholarship two years ago after being viewed by UK football scouts before 'various things intervened', most notably the coronavirus pandemic.
He said the long wait had only added to the excitement of the move.
A normal school day will include five days of week of four-and-a-half hours of classes, from 8am to 2.30pm, before academy training from 3-5pm.
He will also either train or play games each Saturday, with Sundays designated as a study day.
It's not something many people my age get to do, so I really need to take this opportunity.- Mac Hilson
"We also have two hours of mandatory study from 9pm to 11pm every night, so it's full-on," he said.
"But I think that repetitiveness and hard work, and playing every day, and learning their style of football in England as well as meeting lots of international footballers, is going to be a great experience.
"I think there's something like 80 nationalities represented at the school, so learning those different play styles and the hard work involved are the things I need to become a better player."
Hilson, a Girton Grammar student, has been playing since he was five.
The elegant and prodigiously talented left-footer started his soccer with Golden City and then Bendigo FC before joining NPL1 club Hume City in 2019.
After Hume City was relegated from the top-level, Hilson accepted an invitation to join NPL1 powerhouse South Melbourne's under-19 team midway through this season and he has not looked back.
"Being 16 and a lot younger than most of the other players, it's really pushed me to new heights and pushed me to show my true skills as a player," the speedy winger said.
"I've only been there a short amount of time, but they've really changed my game, which is something I was searching for.
"It's been a bit stop-start, obviously, with COVID, but I've still been training in Bendigo, so that works well.
"I've been training with (high-performance coaches) Fab Soncin and Nathan Claridge, two one-on-one coaches.
"They are some of the best coaches I have had, if not the best. They have been very influential in pushing my training and how I play today, teaching me new styles and techniques and about mindset.
"All the clubs I have been at have pushed me to new heights and obviously being among that higher age group this year has really helped my game."
Claridge, Bendigo City FC's technical director, praised Hilson for being high achieving and very driven.
"He is an exceptionally talented kid, but his work ethic is unbelievable," said Claridge, a former NPL player with Green Gully, whose own playing career took him overseas on a scholarship to Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma in 1996.
"For a 16-year-old to be going into the NPL1 under-19s at probably the biggest club outside the A-League, who produce a lot of talented professional footballers and internationals, is huge for him.
"He has done phenomenally well this year at South Melbourne.
"I don't know heaps about the set-up in England, but as I've said to him, what do you have to lose?
"He can go over there for a year or two years and if it doesn't work out, he has his foot in the door at South Melbourne and they will welcome him back and he can still break into the Australian programs.
"But this is perfect, he is the type of kid, who, doors will open for him. He's such a lovely kid and such a hard worker.
"School and football, who wouldn't want to do that? He will love it."
Claridge said Hilson was a delight to watch, both in training and on the field.
"He is a left-footer - I have never seen the ball hit so sweet, he has just got the most incredible natural technique when he strikes the ball," he said.
"Everything is just that high-intensity, high-pace.
"When I was training him, I'd bring in some other kids from Bendigo City and they would be like, 'wow'.
"The level at which he trains and does things is exceptional. It's fast, sharp and high-quality and when he strikes the ball it's unbelievable.
"I wish him every success."
Hilson, a Manchester City fan, is looking forward to hopefully taking in some Premier League action while in England.
"Any game really - even if I can go watch Leicester City," he said.
"I've always dreamed about watching Premier League games and the atmosphere - it's a big part of why I play as well."
He is no stranger to overseas travel, having represented Victoria Country in Japan in 2018, as well as his futsal experience in the US in 2016.
The level at which he trains and does things is exceptional. It's fast, sharp and high-quality and when he strikes the ball it's unbelievable.- Nathan Claridge
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