The Melbourne Demons have signed their first international scholarship player, claiming Maia Westrupp of Whakatane.
Formerly a New Zealand junior volleyballer and tennis representative, and regional rugby player, the 18 year-old was identified by new national recruiting manager Jason Taylor during his recent AIS trip to New Zealand.
Taylor spotted the a 187cm and 75kg midfield prospect during the National Combine in Wellington, where Westrupp topped the 20 metre sprint (2.8 seconds) and vertical leap (80 cm), from roughly 60 participants aged 14 to 18 years old.
Westrupp said it was “pretty exciting” joining the Demons.
“It’s something new for me, but it’s been a real good experience [already],” he told melbournefc.com.au.
“The past 24 hours have been pretty surreal, especially in the short timeframe that it’s happened. Now, I’m just looking forward to it. I’ve seen a little bit of the professionalism around the facilities and it’s great to be here.
“I started playing about two weeks ago, so that’s why it’s been a bit of a whirlwind for me. I had a few trainings – and I’ve [already] been put in my place –and they’ve said my aerobic has got a bit to work on.”
Although Taylor was delighted to sign Westrupp, he acknowledged that the convert had several challenges ahead of him.
“There’s miles to go yet, but really what you’re trying to do through this program is identify an athlete that’s got a point of difference. He has that through his speed, agility and athleticism and then you’ve got to start putting the football program at the player,” he said.
“But if he’s prepared to do the work, like we feel he is, who knows where it’ll go?
“It’s going to take an enormous amount of work and an enormous amount of time to prepare him for that, but we feel that it’s an opportunity outside the national pathway, so we might be able to produce an athlete in time.”
Although Westrupp caught the former Collingwood recruiter’s eye when he “excelled” with his vertical leap and speed, Taylor was also impressed with the youngster’s character.
“His father happened to be there on the day [of the testing] and I happened to get a bit of background [on Westrupp] and it went from there,” he said.
“I thought for a boy who hadn’t kicked the ball at all, up until that point … in the kicking test, the ball control seemed sound for the level he was at.
“He’s been able to achieve in certain areas of his life, which gave me more confidence when considering this project.”
Westrupp will be based in New Zealand and will undertake a development program implemented by Melbourne, with the support of AFLNZ.
“He’ll continue his studies at the University of Auckland, where he’s studying sports science and then he’ll be integrated into the AFL New Zealand program, where he’ll start to play some competitive games of football, which he’s yet to do,” Taylor said.
“Then we’ll track his progress from there and we’ll continue to build him to a level that we think – and hopefully – potentially in time, he’ll be able to come down to the football club.”
Long term, Westrupp has set his sights on making it at the highest level.
“[I] just [want] to play a bit of footy and hopefully make the Melbourne Demons’ starting squad,” he said.
“Hopefully [I’ll] give it a good crack.”
To clarify Westrupp’s position, he sits outside Melbourne’s primary and rookie list and its Total Player Payments. Under the international scholarship program, clubs can sign up to eight athletes in each year.