Sydney University midfielder Jake Bartholomaeus never thought “in a million years” he would be standing on stage as the NEAFL's Most Valuable Player.
The Students young gun – who turns 22 on Tuesday – humbly accepted the trophy at the Sofitel Brisbane Central on Sunday night after winning the competition’s highest individual honour.
When he took to the stage, a nervous Bartholomaeus was shaking his head in disbelief.
“I’m really nervous, I’m shaking. I can’t believe it to be honest,” he told the crowd.
“A few of the boys hinted that I might be close, but I never thought I could win it. Not in a million years.”
Bartholomaeus’ rise from a ‘scrawny’ teenager to one of the best midfielders in the NEAFL is extraordinary.
He came to Sydney University a couple of years ago fresh out of the Swans Academy, having made his NEAFL debut in 2016.
He spent most of the 2017 season in the AFL Sydney Premier Division competition with UNSW/ES Bulldogs, only featuring at NEAFL level once as a top-up for the GIANTS.
Last year, Bartholomaeus started to find his feet, earning a NEAFL Rising Star nomination and winning Sydney University’s Rising Star Award after playing 18 matches.
Just 12 months later, Bartholomaeus rose to the very top of the competition, polling 73 votes to edge out Canberra Demons defender Angus Baker for the MVP.
“I came to Sydney Uni three years ago and the first year was a big building year for me. I was scrawny like a little weed – I still am a bit – but I really focused on maturing In the gym and getting bigger and getting stronger just to compete against some really good players in the midfield,” Bartholomaeus said.
“The backing of ‘Morro’ (coach Tom Morrison) every week and all the captains and senior boys – it means a lot.
“I think it’s a big focus of all the midfielders in our team is to work both ways (defence and attack). For me, it was just more (about) staying in the contest, competing every week and that’s what I focus on. Just being tough around the ball, getting back to help out the backline, and working my arse off, really.”
After thanking his mum and dad who “have been there since I was born”, Bartholomaeus credited the many clubs, coaches and staff for setting him on the right path.
“I’d like to thank everyone who’s been there since the start. The journey is still going and hopefully there is a bit more to go,” he said.
“I’d like to thank my family the most… the Maroubra Saints where I first started when I was five, UNSW Bulldogs, the Swans Academy, and now Sydney Uni. I can’t be more thankful for all the support you’ve put behind me.”
Bartholomaeus’ immediate priority is helping Sydney University to beat Sydney Swans in a knock-out Elimination Final on Saturday for the chance to take on Brisbane in the Preliminary Final a week later.
As for the higher ambition of becoming an AFL draftee, Bartholomaeus is content on continuing to focus on what he can control.
“I’ll just focus on working hard from here,” he said.
“You never know what can happen, but for me it’s just about focusing on developing myself, and getting stronger and smarter as well.”
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