EVER imagined doing what you love most for hours every day?
For Bendigo's Mac Hilson, that dream is his reality.
From the moment the 16-year-old first started playing soccer at age five, he has never been able to get enough of the round ball game.
Now he finds himself in a place where his huge appetite for the game he loves is being well and truly whetted.
Hilson is four months into a two-year scholarship at Brook House College in Market Harbour, Leicestershire, as a member of the school's prestigious football academy.
To say that it is full-on would be a huge understatement.
For starters, there are the daily two-and-a-half to three-hour training sessions, followed by weights and recovery sessions.
Then there are the two and soon to be three games a week to get through.
Not that Hilson is complaining. Anything but.
The gifted teenager is relishing the opportunity to fast-track his development more than 10,000 miles away from home.
But just as importantly, he is loving life.
Back with his family in Bendigo for a few weeks over Christmas and New Year's, the break has given Hilson a chance to reflect on his astonishing opportunity abroad.
With literally dozens of games under his belt in the first few months and hundreds of hours spent on the training pitch, it's been the intensity that has stood out most for the former South Melbourne NPL1 under-19 and Bendigo City midfielder.
"The intensity straight from the get-go ... about a week after arriving it started with pre-season ... has been something else," he said.
"From there it's been smack-bang into it, 100 per cent every day, six days a week. There's been no stopping throughout the three months.
"And games straight away, from the second week in. Sometimes two times a week and even three games a week coming up. It's been amazing."
Like any substantial move away from home for a teenager, there was a settling-in period to negotiate.
Noted for his calm, cool and collected demeanour on the field, Hilson was able to demonstrate those same principles in making the transition as smooth as possible.
"The first couple of weeks were quite different. There was a lot of team training, which I'm obviously used to, but when I was in Bendigo before I left, I was doing a lot of individual training with different coaches," he said.
"But I got used to it very quickly. Even though it was six times a week and very intense, it's like nothing I've ever experienced.
"Here (in Bendigo), I was doing a fair bit of training to get prepared for it, so I thought I got settled quite quickly, but it was definitely a change.
"But it's great, it's school and then it's training and games. There's nothing else like it."
Playing with and against talented youngsters from across the world in the English schools super league, the bulk of them two and three years older, it has been a fast and steep learning curve for Hilson.
He is so far pleased with his development and his early-season return of eight goals, while playing in the elite under-19 division.
"We haven't lost a game so far this season - the team has really pushed me to new heights," he said.
"I'm in the under-19 team, myself and another guy being 16 are the youngest in the team.
"We have quite a few Nigerians in our team, a couple from Germany and another guy from Finland and that's given me a really good outlook on their style of play.
"And then playing against the UK guys, they are so addicted to the game. They want the ball, so you can't hold on to it too long.
"So, not just technically, but the decision making side of things in my game has improved."
Highlighting just how well he is considered, the academy boasts nearly 200 players split into three each under-19 and under-17 teams.
At 16, he is playing in the top bracket of under-19 competition.
Read more: Mac Hilson's soccer dream leads to England
That has taken him all over the country and into soccer strongholds such as Liverpool, London and Leicester.
He was also selected to play in Scotland in matches against Hibernian and Dunfermline in Edinburgh.
Hilson is far from lying idle during his time back in Bendigo, taking part in a few individual sessions.
He also spent time pre-Christmas training with Bendigo City FC's senior squad, which is busy preparing for the 2022 state league season.
It will be the first time the club has fielded senior teams since 2017.
Hilson couldn't be happier seeing the cream of Bendigo's young talent, many of them good friends of his, again being given the opportunity to represent their city at senior level.
"I used to love going to see Bendigo City back in their last year (in seniors). I loved watching them after my game on a weekend - they'd always be on at night time," he said.
"It was such a great atmosphere. There might not have been 10,000 people there, but there was a real feeling about the team being from our city and representing us.
"I always loved it and I was sad when the senior team disappeared.
"It's great seeing them back - I'm sure they will make a real go of it."
Hilson is set to return to England and school in early January and is already turning his attention to ways in which he can improve and further make the most of his amazing opportunity abroad.
"I'm really looking forward to expanding my game even more, especially my decision making and even my speed of play," he said.
"There are a lot of things that always need to be worked on, but there are some things specific to my position that I would like to work on to help me become a more complete player.
"I really want to move my career on to higher teams and higher standards (of competition) and become the best player I can."
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