MICHAEL Close couldn't believe it when he got a text from Brisbane Lions captain Jonathan Brown congratulating him on being chosen by the club in this month's national draft.
Close, who grew up in the tiny western Victorian town of Harrow, didn't have a favourite team or player when he was growing up.
But if there was one player the 18-year-old wanted to emulate, it would be Brown.
While the youngster has a big frame, he admitted it would take some time for him to grow into it.
That means a chance to line up alongside the skipper may not eventuate in 2013.
"I haven't got the muscle yet - I'm still what they call a project player," Close said.
"I just want to learn as much as I can and feed off big Jonno Brown. It's pretty surreal having him as a teammate."
While Close grew up in Harrow, he boarded at Monivae College in Hamilton from year nine, before shifting to St Pat's in Ballarat to complete his secondary schooling and be part of the North Ballarat Rebels program in the TAC Cup.
He wasn't the only player to shine in that environment, with good mate Tanner Smith drafted by Fremantle and Martin Gleeson selected by Essendon.
Teammates Jake Neade (Port Adelaide) and Dominic Barry (Melbourne) were also selected on senior AFL lists prior to the draft, Close saying he wouldn't be surprised if more Rebels players were picked up in next month's rookie draft.
The team finished minor premiers in the TAC Cup but was beaten by Oakleigh by 83 points in the preliminary final.
Close said he was still pinching himself being part of the Lions set-up, although the first week for the three draftees has just been about meeting the players and coaches and watching how the senior players prepare and train.
"It's just unreal being here ... I can't believe it," he said.
"Monday we just watched the players train, Tuesday we did a couple of sessions and then had an ice bath, and Wednesday was a day off.
"We won't do the workloads the players do for a while just to avoid injuries."
Close is staying with established player Aaron Cornelius, but next week will move into a house with Sam Mayes and Marco Paparone who were also picked up in the draft.
The trio can expect a visit from Lions player welfare manager Manny Lynch - brother of Lions triple premiership player Alistair - who Close said would "explain the rules and teach us how to cook".
Close has big shoes to fill - he knows he was drafted as a potential replacement for Brown, saying, "He's certainly one of the players I'd like to model my game on".
If he turns out half as good as his skipper, everyone in Harrow will be thrilled.
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