SUMMARY: Essendon Keilor College is the first established elite football school in Victoria. Their program has been so successful that in the 9 years since its beginning, the school has produced 13 players drafted into AFL lists, and over 50 others who tried out with VFL clubs (a large percentage of whom have gone on to make it in the VFL).

So what is the secret to their incredible record of success? We decided to investigate and were impressed with what we found (You will be too).

BACKGROUND

The Essendon Keilor College (or EKC for short) was founded in 1992 from the amalgamation of Queens Park Secondary College (formerly Essendon Technical School), Essendon High School, Niddrie High School and Keilor Heights Secondary College.

EKC was the first multi campus college in the area and since the beginning has proven to be a highly successful provider of education programs for students in years 7 to 12.

The college currently boasts an enrolment of approximately 1800 and provides education primarily to students from the north and west of Melbourne.

One of EKC’s unique programs is that which they offer to prospective AFL recruits. The Essendon Keilor College has formed partnerships with two TAC Cup clubs in the Calder Cannons Football Club and more recently the Western Jets Football Club. Both of these clubs are part of the elite under 18’s competition in Victoria.

The success of this program has been amazing as evidenced by the former students who have gone on to be drafted into the AFL since 1999:

1999 Ezra Bray Geelong
2001 Brent Reilly Adelaide
2001 Andrew Welsh Essendon
2002 Ryan Crowley Fremantle
2002 Daniel Sipthorp Richmond
2002 Brad Murphy Western Bulldogs
2003 Brock McLean Melbourne
2004 Lynden Dunn Melbourne
2004 Jesse Smith Carlton
2005 Jake Edwards Carlton
2005 Matthew White Richmond
2006 Peter Faulks Sydney
2006 Matthew O’Dwyer Sydney

A number of students have also gone on to make a big impression in the VFL as well, including:

  • Jackson Barling, winner of the 2005 Fothergill-Round Medal (the VFL equivalent of the AFL’s Rising Star Award).
  • David Stretton winner of the 2006 A. Todd Medal for being judged the best player in the VFL Reserves. He also took out the Williamtown’s Reserves Best and Fairest for 2006.
  • Robbie Castello, crowned Werribee’s Senior Best and Fairest for 2006.

THE ELITE FOOTBALL PROGRAM

The Essendon Keilor College offers its students a unique opportunity and provides those students who don’t see school favourably, but possess outstanding sporting ability, to continue their studies whilst chasing a sporting dream.

It took a bit of sweet talking, but we were able to convince EKC coach Travis Leggett to spill the beans on their success secrets. Here’s what we discovered.

Secret # 1 – Made Football A VCE Subject

EKC has managed to get “football” as an accredited VCE subject as part of a Certificate II in Sport and recreation, and students are marked according to their skill and knowledge of the game.

This has provided a two-fold advantage. Firstly, students can spend more time on football development that they would otherwise be able to do at other schools.

Secondly, students are more motivated to achieve academically, as well as in football, because academic performance is linked into being picked on school teams.

According to Leggett, “There are always students who are solely here for the football side of the school and are lacking in motivation in the academic side. So we tell our football kids that attendance, academic results and attitude will all come into factor when picking our teams. If they do the right things they will be rewarded, but if they want to play around and stuff up in class, then we tell them that they shouldn’t be annoyed when they aren’t picked.”

Note – We’ll go into how football motivated Essendon Star Andrew Welsh at school later in the article 😉

Secret # 2 – Training Sessions

The aim of EKC’s elite football program is to prepare students for the AFL draft while also providing them with a sound academic background.

EKC runs 13 classes of football a week, made up of 7 classes for year 12’s and 6 classes for year 11’s. Classes are normally double periods with one period dedicated to skills and the other dedicated to weight training.

In a typical week, students will complete three weight sessions, three skills sessions, one large group training session and one small group training session. Students also play in a number of different competitions.

The main training session is on Wednesday. Leggett explains, “Our entire school has a unique timetable on a Wednesday. The whole school finishes at 12.40 pm to allow students to get to part time jobs, extra study or extra practice for school teams. So we run our main training session on this day. The session normally goes for 1-1.5 hrs and concentrates on skills, set plays, match routines and game day outlines and rules.”

UPDATE – EKC has also just commenced a junior football program run on Monday afternoons. Here, twenty three Year 9 boys undertake specialised football sessions instead of their normal physical education sessions.

According to Leggett, “Once a week we meet, talk about football, train in a large group, and practice a particular skill for that week. For instance last week I got them to make up a set shot goal routine, and for their homework they had to write it down for me. We are hoping to tape their kicking style and hopefully place it on a DVD for them to see where the have to improve.”

“At this age in their life they are just starting to get noticed by the Cannons and Jets, so we though it would be a great idea if the school could offer the kids some football knowledge when they start to getting into the football squads,” explains Leggett.

“One thing that the Cannons and Jets people hate is trying to get kids at a young age out of their bad habits. So we though if we could help the kids it will make their chances of making up-coming squads a better chance.”

Secret # 3 – Weight Training To Gain A Massive Physical Advantage

One the biggest keys to EKCs success has been their weight training program (something we recommend young players learn from in this article). It is one of the backbones to their elite football program.

According to Leggett, “The results have been amazing. The size of the boys from when they arrive in Year 11 to when they leave in Year 12 is just unbelievable.”

“They come in with teenage bodies and leave with bodies that are able to step it up against mature-aged players, either in their local comp or VFL. It gives our kids such a major and massive advantage to kids who can’t get to the gym, or kids who have to find their own time to work out.”

“I always remember talking to Adelaide’s Brent Reilly (a former student) and he has always said that if it wasn’t for the un-limited gym usage he had at EKC, he wouldn’t have been able to compete and play with the more mature bodies at the U18 TAC Cup Level.”

Each student has their own unique weights program to meet their own individual needs. Programs are developed by current U16 & U18 Calder Cannons Weights coach Damien Villarosa who is a teacher at the school and is in the program.

Students get three weight training periods of 50 minutes in length. However thanks to sponsorship from “Re-Creation Gym” (which is directly across the road from school) students also have unlimited access to the gym and can also train after school, before school and at lunch and recess times.

Secret # 4 – Formed Strategic Partnerships

Another key to EKC’s success has been the strategic partnerships which they have formed and leveraged to improve their football program.

EKC have firstly partnered with the Calder Cannons and the Western Jets Football Clubs, both of whom play in the prestigious Under 18 TAC Cup, the biggest pool for under-age drafted players.

This has resulted in the Calder Cannons providing specialist coaching support of the football program. It also means that when a kid is playing well and isn’t at the Jets or Cannons, EKC can alert them (and this has happened quite a lot over the years).

Secondly, EKC has received valuable sponsorship from “Re-Creation Gym” which is directly across the road (15 meters from the front of the school). As evidenced earlier, this has given students important access to a professional weight training facility which in turn has given their students a huge advantage over their competition.

HOW EKC HELPED ESEENDON STAR ANDREW WELSH

Current Essendon star Andrew Welsh is a successful former student who was drafted to the Bombers in 2001. Welsh became involved with the college in 2000 after learning of the school through the Calder Cannons Football Club.
Welsh explains, “A few of my mates were changing schools to do the program and I thought I would give it a go. The thought of doing football as a subject and getting marked for it was pretty appealing!”

“I wasn’t too keen to stick at school. Before I heard about this college”, says Welsh. “It gave me an extra interest to head to school and finish my VCE along with improving my football, by doing weight sessions and extra skills sessions during school time.”

“Every day included a session for football, whether it was weights, skills, or in class sessions like nutrition or diet”, adds Welsh.

When asked if the program at the Essendon Keilor College helped Andrew Welsh reach his goal of playing in the AFL, Welsh was full of praise for the program.

“I believe it helped because it allowed me to focus on achieving my goals of getting drafted, as I was able to work on my football weaknesses during class time, which was an addition to my training commitments with the Calder Cannons.”

The school curriculum also allowed Welsh to complete his VCE as a fallback if he wasn’t drafted into the AFL. Welsh summed up the value of this program to young players by adding, “If I couldn’t have mixed school with footy, I would more than likely to have quit school and not finished my VCE!”

CONCLUSION

With the decline in football activities in schools around the country and the availability of other sports, the drop in skill levels amongst school age players has been very noticeable. EKC’s elite football program has been a huge success and offers another lifeline to young players who, like former student Andrew Welsh, may have opted to leave school early without completing upper school education.

The school needs to be congratulated for such a program. With other institutions such as the Clontarf Aboriginal College in Western Australia reaping benefits in both academic and football studies, the value of these programs is all important to the growth of our game, and the academic achievements of young players.

For further information, go to:

Essendon Keilor College
Calder Cannons Football Club
Western Jets Football Club
U/18’s TAC Cup Competition
Title photo by Brad Hill via: freeforcommercialuse.org.

Posted by David Johnson

David “Johnno” Johnson is our chief football researcher and writer. With over 20 years of coaching experience in all grades of football David was also a prominent footballer himself, having played at Teal Cup level and was even recruited by the Essendon Football Club. The pinnacle of David's coaching experience saw him as the assistant coach of the East Fremantle Shark Football Club in the WAFL for a number of years.

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