WHEN it came to choosing a captain for this year’s Bendigo Pioneers squad, coach Rick Coburn didn’t have to look far to find a player with strong leadership potential.
Among the talented squad, one name stood out.
That was 17-year-old Jacob Atley, the youngest of five kids from Rochester by way of Corryong.
Atley was highly regarded as a junior, played Vic Country under-16s and featured in 14 games last year for Bendigo as a bottom ager.
But his captaincy credentials were no doubt enhanced by the fact that, as Jacob says, “leadership Jacob’s dad Brendan played footy at Rochester and is the principal at St Mary’s in Echuca while his mum Christina is a teacher.
His eldest brother, Shaun, captained the Murray Bushrangers while the family lived at Corryong and was drafted by North Melbourne in 2011, a club for whom he has played 158 games.
After the family moved back to Rochester, middle brother Joe began playing within the Pioneers system.
Like Shaun, Joe was named captain in his top-age year of U18s and was drafted by Port Adelaide at the end of 2016.
So it was only to be expected that Jacob would reprise the role his two brothers had as he seeks his own AFL journey.
He is taking it all in his stride as he manages school in Rochester and travelling to Bendigo and further afield for training and games.
“It’s a good challenge, I like leading and I’m really enjoying it,” he said.
While he has no shortage of advice from his brothers, he isn’t necessarily taking it all on board.
“I’ve heard a few stories about Joe’s speeches being no good, so I won’t ask me about that side of it,” he said with a laugh.
“They both give me good insight into what it takes. It’s a bit of an advantage to know what you’re coming up against, and what you need to expect from what’s coming in the year.”
Even a short chat with Jacob shows that he is at home among people, not one to shy away. As the so-called baby of a big family, you’d expect that.
“We’re all pretty spread out, Shaun in Melbourne and Joe in Adelaide, one of my sisters is in Melbourne and the other is still at home,” he said.
“I probably cop it from them a bit as the youngest, but I’m used to that. The good thing is as the youngest you usually get pretty spoiled, mum is a good cook so I just get all the food to myself pretty much.
“But when we get together like at Christmas it’s pretty special. Dad’s definitely the leader in those situations, that’s where we get it from.”
The Pioneers play their second home game of the TAC Cup season against Oakleigh tonight, under lights at the QEO.
Before he heads to Melbourne to watch Shaun’s Kangaroos play Hawthorn on Sunday, the youngest Atley said he is looking forward to leading the Pioneers into battle in what is the club’s marquee home game.
“It’s a great opportunity to play under lights at the QEO, it’s an awesome ground and to be on there in a night match is pretty exciting,” he said.
“Hopefully we can play some good footy and come away with the win.”