RUNNING RED HOT: Former Red Cliffs young gun Dylan Stephens is in the mix to be a top-10 selection in next week’s AFL Draft. The 18-year-old is pictured playing for Norwood’s SANFL Reserves side during their premiership win over Woodville-West Torrens in September. Photo: John Emery

By MITCH RODD

THE realism that his future in the AFL will soon be sorted is setting in for Dylan Stephens.

The 18-year-old from Red Cliffs has been touted a first-round, and potentially top-10, draft pick for most of 2019, and he will finally know his AFL destination come the draft next Wednesday and Thursday.

Since moving to Adelaide to complete a footballing scholarship, Stephens has impressed at both Norwood at SANFL level and for South Australia at the Under 18 National Championships.

Stephens played 13 games and kicked eight goals at senior SANFL level, as well as winning the Reserves premiership. He averaged 18.1 disposals per game at an efficient 79 percent, as well as four marks, 4.5 tackles and 3.4 inside 50s.

His outstanding endurance combined with searing pace is a rare athletic commodity in football, lending itself naturally to him being a wingman, or playing at half-forward or half-back. Despite his slender frame, the youngster has already proven he can play as an inside midfielder in South Australia as well.

Stephens told Mildura Weekly he has tried to keep himself occupied in the lead up to next week’s draft, but also admitted he hasn’t avoided listening to opinions of where he could end up playing in 2020.

“I’m not feeling too much to be honest because I really have no control over it (my future),” he said.

“It’s starting to cross my mind a little bit more because people are asking me about it but otherwise I’m trying to keep busy and keep myself occupied.

“I’ve been playing a fair bit of golf with the SA boys, and I’ve got Uni as well so a bit of study for exams (studying commerce).

“It’s a bit different for each of us. A few of the boys aren’t guaranteed to be drafted. I think we’re all just waiting for these last few weeks to be over and done with so we know what our next step is.

“Because the draft is something I’ve always been interested in, I’m not going to avoid it just because I’m part of it this year. For years I’ve always read in depth about potential draftees, and tried to get a sense of how I would go so I’ve read it (analysis on me) but I can’t control what others say.

“I’ve had contact with just about everyone at this stage, the only team I haven’t heard from is Richmond.”

The introduction of clubs trading for draft selections on the night 12 months ago makes it much harder to predict where a player may be selected. Stephens, however has been predicted as being taken as high as Pick 4, currently held by Adelaide, all the way through until Pick 15, with the Crows, Port Adelaide, Fremantle and Carlton all reportedly in the running for him.

The man himself has no real preference of destination, however, being a Carlton supporter means he would love to end up at Ikon Park.

“I’ve lived in Melbourne, Mildura and now Adelaide so the prospect of going somewhere else is exciting,” Stephens said.

“In saying that I’m a Carlton supporter, so I would love to get to the Blues, but I’ve also enjoyed being in Adelaide so the Crows or Power would be cool too. But I would be happy joining any team.”

Following a slow start to the National Championships, Stephens exploded in the final game against the Allies, gathering 33 disposals in a best-on-ground effort.

He was rewarded with All Australian honours after averaging 23.8 disposals and 4.8 tackles per game over the four matches.

“Heading into the Championships, our coach wanted to play me more on the inside but we had a lot of mids that could only play more contested footy, so I was more out on the wing for team balance,” Stephens said.

“It was a little frustrating not getting as involved in the early games, but I was lucky enough to go inside in the last match when I probably had my best performance.

“With Norwood I started as a permanent half forward then pushed back to a wing, but in the second half of the year I was splitting time between the forward line and as inside mid 50/50.

“Obviously it’s important to be versatile and I’ve enjoyed being able to play more than one position.”

At the recent AFL combine, Stephens showed recruiters his athleticism by finishing in the top 10 for 20 metre sprint with 2.972 seconds, top 10 for agility, completing the course in 8.245 seconds, and third in the 2km time trial.

He became the fastest player in history to complete the time trial, recording a time of six minutes and one second (6:01), however, he only held the record for minutes as Jay Rantall (5:50) and Finn Maginness (5:51) went past him.

“I knew it was coming!” Dylan laughed.

“All the talk was about how us three would go. I was put in one group and the other two were in the next, and I thought I could see this happening.

“I would have loved to have run with Jay and Finn as I may have been able to push myself a bit harder.

“I don’t think I would have beaten them though. I was still really happy with my time.

“Following the combine I’ve just put my feet up a bit and rested the body a bit more.

“I’m starting to get back into it now and have been doing a bit more upper body strength work at the gym.”

The 2019 NAB AFL Draft begins next Wednesday at 7pm, and can be viewed on Fox Footy or via the AFL Live Official App.