Hotton’s midfield move sparks draft rise

SANDRINGHAM Dragons midfielder/forward Olli Hotton made no excuses about his slow start to the 2022 NAB League Boys season, admitting that though he was excited to try a new role up forward, it did not quite go to plan. Fast forward six months later, and the son of former Blue and Pie, Trent, is a potential first round prospect.

Unlike his midfield counterparts of Will Ashcroft (Brisbane father-son) and Cameron Mackenzie (St Kilda Next-Generation Academy), Hotton is not eligible to head to either of the arch rivals, with his father playing 61 games in the navy blue after running out in 17 for the black and white. Though Hotton concedes there might have been “a little bit of security” having ties to a club, he said the motivation of knowing he would have to earn an AFL list spot on pure merits was more motivating.

“I think it motivates you to improve your game a lot more when you know that every club is open to you and you’re trying to impress all 18 clubs and it’s good motivation to get as high as you can in the draft and see all those options are available, so I think it’s good motivation for a lot of people,” Hotton said. “I prefer an open draft.”

His father has been a guiding influence on the teenager, and while the younger Hotton said his dad had not been “too over the top” with feedback, he was always there to lean on for advice.

“He’s been a pretty good guidance with what he has to say is coming from a place with a lot of experience,” Hotton said. “You know what he’s saying is pretty credible and you take his information on with stride. He’s been a good influence with me, he’s not too hands on not too over the top, but he likes to give feedback on my areas of improvements post-game.

“We watched vision together and go over my games afterwards and point out where I could have run differently or done something a little bit differently but he hasn’t been too over the top with that.”

Technically a Pies supporter, Hotton might have the most controversial take when it comes to the question ‘which team do you support?’ with the answer far more grey than black and white.

“I’m actually a Pies man, but my dad and my middle brother Taj are both Carlton,” Hotton said. “It’s a bit of a rivalry within the house, but I’d say I’m 60 per cent Collingwood, 40 per cent Carlton, I’m pretty much 50/50. Around the league I go for them both, but when they play each other I go for Collingwood.”

When Round 23 rolled around, just how were the emotions when Collingwood knocked Carlton out of finals in the last match of the season?

“That was the toughest the game for me to watch, I did not know who to go for. In the end i could not pick one, I was just happy either way,” he said.

It was another take that will no doubt leave supporters of the bitter rivals confused, but few could be confused as to why Hotton is being talked up as a first round talent. After starting the year in attack and picking up disposal counts of 10, 11 and 10 in just three games – booting just two goals – the talented midfielder-turned-forward headed off to APS football.

Playing at Haileybury College, Hotton worked into his year, and by the time he had returned to the Dragons program, there was little doubt what role he should play. A huge 26-disposal, two-goal game against premiership favourites Oakleigh in Round 16 kick-started his NAB League season in many ways, and he would record two more 25-disposal hauls on his way to playing a key role in the Dragons premiership.

“It’s been pretty unreal, the back half of the year has just been a really good experience week-in, week-out,” Hotton said. “Probably since we came back from APS into that NAB League side with the Dragons, those connections we built together, we ended up getting all the way to the end and we all loved each other, we had a really good group of mates altogether and I think that played a big part in the connection on-field and was a big reason why we went so far and did so well.”

In terms of his on-field individual success, Hotton said he was fortunate to break into the stacked Dragons onball brigade after a number of factors opened the door for him from Round 16 onwards.

“It kind of worked out with a few of our midfielders from the start of the year were top-agers who weren’t playing any more and also the likes of Charlie Clarke who had moved predominantly forward, so there was a bit of a spot there for me and I seemed to fit in pretty well and with Cam Mackenzie, Will Ashcroft and I, we got on pretty well and we really worked out stuff out in the midfield,” he said. I was really lucky to slot in there but I think I held my own and we did really well.”

Hotton expects he will start as a forward at AFL level, with the hope he could gain midfield minutes over a number of years and develop into that dual position player at the elite level. A clean player both at ground level and in the air, Hotton also describes his strengths as his powerful burst from stoppages, and his willingness to take the ball forward and be “pretty damaging”. The hard working midfielder is not without his improvements though, citing his endurance as a key focus for him to work on over the off-season.

His talent was identified among a host of other big names in Dragons colours, with Sandringham likely having three top 10 picks – Ashcroft, Mackenzie and Harry Sheezel – with Hotton and possibly Clarke rounding out the 20-odd first round picks. It might be difficult to fit in alongside highly touted talent, and while Hotton admitted he might have flown under the radar compared to Ashcroft, Mackenzie and Sheezel early in the year, his form warranted more plaudits in the second half of the year, balancing the ledger.

“I think at the start of the year it was more I was playing a new role up forward and I’d never played forward in my life before until this year,” Hotton said. “It wasn’t the publicity of the other boys, I think it was the fact I wasn’t playing very well and I think as my game has got better and I started putting some better performances out there I did get that same recognition.

“I don’t think they really single out people and it doesn’t hide anyone else. The whole NAB League is about unlocking talent from everyone on the field so I think when I played well I still got what I deserved with the publicity side of things.”

November saw Hotton firmly focused on his exams, conceding that footy took up a lot of his time throughout the year, but now it as time to hit the books before preparing for the National AFL Draft. With the draft now just under a week away, Hotton is ready to make the next step in his football journey, be it on night one, or night two of the draft.

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