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By Daniele Antonaglia.

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With his heart pounding, sweat running down his face and hands tightly clutched to the ball, player number 31 takes his chance. Over 50 metres out from the post, he steps back readying himself for the kick. A sea of Lions jerseys roar as the ball glides through the centre goal in a moment the young player will never forget.  Just like that Harris Andrews scores his debut goal in the AFL.

The story of his swift rise to the top level of Australian football is one that every young player can only dream of as they take to the junior league field each Saturday, but for Harris Andrews, this has become his reality.

There is no question that Harris Andrews is a player to keep your eye on, in fact at over two metres tall he is difficult to miss. Watching him on the field, it is clear that he has natural instincts for the game, honed over 15 years of playing. His energy, speed and command of the ball along with his ability to use his height and launch himself into the air for key intercepts, has grabbed the attention of commentators and spectators. In his short time at the senior level of AFL, Harris has made a big impression on the game, earning himself a Rising Star Award nomination, but for him this is something he never imagined.

In a whirlwind of events, his journey from a high school student working at a fast-food take away, to Brisbane Lions draftee is what Harris describes as “a massive flash that went by so quickly”. Considering himself a late-bloomer in the game, Harris believes his level of play substantially improved after he got taller. “When I turned 16, I shot up, I grew a lot, and then was able to use my height in the sport. That helped me get noticed,” he said.

After showing his versatility in successfully playing both forward and defence, Harris was invited to join the Brisbane Lions Academy late in 2013, before being selected for the state team and eventually getting drafted to the Lions for the 2015 season. Harris made his debut earlier than expected, after a series of injures plagued the Lions side and he was then able to show everyone what he was capable of.

Raised in a football fond family, with his dad from AFL-crazed Victoria, Harris first put on the brown and yellow jersey for the Aspley Hornets at age five. He quickly developed a love for the sport on the field and in the stands, becoming a proud supporter of Essendon, something which he would learn to mention sparingly. At eight-years-old on the first day of a football camp in Brisbane, Harris in his Essendon gear found himself the easy target in amongst a pride of Lions jerseys. “There was about 200 kids there 199 were wearing Brisbane Lions jerseys and I was the only one not wearing one,” he recalls.

But there is no doubt now that Harris has the heart of a lion.

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The last two seasons have seen the Lions take a tumble down the ladder, but Harris remains optimistic for the year ahead. With a new coach at the helm, the club is set to take a new direction in 2017 which has already seen them claw themselves to a two-point victory in their first game against the Gold Coast Suns. For Harris, the excitement and surrealism of getting on the field was fine in his first years, but now “the novelty has worn off” and he is “pumped for the team to bring home some wins”.

Harris’ unwavering commitment to his fitness is visibly obvious and despite his height he has worked hard at the gym to add bulk to his frame. A strict “no bad food diet” and intense training five days a week sees him continually improving his physical form. Harris maintains that one of his biggest struggles since joining the club was watching his friends turn 18 and not being able to go out and celebrate with them, but at the end of the day he knows he is in a job that will hopefully set him up for life.

Harris has given up a lot, “On weekends when his friends are out at parties, he is always training,” says his younger brother Alex Andrews. “He’s sacrificed a lot to get to where he is and is willing to make those little sacrifices to set him apart from the rest,” adds longtime friend Aaron Bell, with whom he used to play basketball.

While Harris’ life has certainly changed, his friends and family maintain that he has stayed humble despite his success and is still the same down-to-earth, competitive guy, keen to throw some banter around with his mates. “He hasn’t changed, he still loves a sneaky supreme pizza, it’s just annoying to verse him in anything physical now because he’s too big,” said Aaron. When asked to describe Harris as a friend, one of the words that Aaron brings up was ‘selfless’. While he is not at home as often as before, his brother Alex also maintains that despite seeing Harris less since he moved out, they spend a lot more “quality time” together.

Harris represents the new generation of player, he is fast on the field, yet also focused on a future after football. Under no illusion that his AFL career will last forever, Harris is preparing for the next step in his journey and is studying a Bachelor of Commerce at the Australian Catholic University. “You don’t want to reach the end of your football career in 10 years and go jeez what am I doing now,” he says.  At only-20-years old Harris is proud to be in the settlement process of purchasing his first property, “it’s actually going into settlement in the next couple of weeks”.

Whether they like it or not, professional athletes are public figures and along with that comes the microscope of the media and the pressure of being a role model. Harris understands the impact that sportsmen can have on young kids, looking up to many AFL players himself as a young boy. “It’s very important that kids have good role models and that professional sports people, live up to that,” he said. With his teammates, Harris enjoys inspiring the next generation, visiting the kids at local schools and clubs. The kids, wide-eyed and excited, often ask “how do you become a professional player”, to which Harris responds in the only way he can. “If you work hard and dream big anything can happen.”