Jed Anderson at the AFL draft combine this week.JED Anderson was upstairs, sleeping. It was one o’clock on a Wednesday morning when his brother burst through his bedroom door telling him to get downstairs, quickly. It’s hard for him to remember what happened next but as he rushed into the kitchen the teenager saw his father lying on the floor, his mother standing on one side and his brother on the other. They had no idea what to do and Jed wasn’t sure either. Then he brushed by them and tried to save his dad’s life.
”I felt so scared. I remember my mum being on the phone and my brother just standing there, in shock. I was yelling at him: ‘do CPR, do CPR,’ but he couldn’t move. So I ran in there and did it, sort of pushed my brother away and tried to save him,” said Anderson, who did what he could, wondering how this could have happened when he had been sitting, talking and laughing with his father only a few hours earlier. An ambulance arrived before too long and Jed was waiting at the hospital with his mother, brothers and sisters when they were told David hadn’t made it, that he had suffered a major heart attack.
”I broke down when we were told that he had passed. I sort of lost it at the hospital, I didn’t know what to do and I broke down for a long time. It was pretty overwhelming but later on I thought maybe it was a good reaction, that I did something to help him. It sort of gave me some belief in myself, that I did everything I could think of.”
It isn’t easy to get drafted. All sorts of challenges fall into the path of the AFL’s potential players: injuries, expectations, the pressure that comes with being so closely scrutinised. Anderson is talented, and ambitious. He doesn’t simply want to become a professional footballer, he wants to do great things. He is ferocious and determined, with a touch of class, and a leader, the boy Northern Territory talent manager Wally Gallio knows can quieten a room of boisterous teammates with a small nod of his head. He was interviewed by 11 clubs at this week’s draft combine but may find a home before next month’s national draft, with Greater Western Sydney able to trade him to another team as one of the Territory zone players it’s able to pre-list.
His has been a more trying path than most, since long before he lost his father two months ago. When he was 16, Anderson moved to western Sydney to spend a season playing for the club’s TAC Cup team. He really wanted to go, until a day or two before he actually had to leave, and while he loved the sort of football he got to play he struggled to settle into his new school, where playing Australian rules wasn’t the bridge-builder it always had been, and where he would sit – thinking – in the boarding house. ”You’d go to school, go to training, then go home on your own and think about things you don’t want to think about. It gets to you, in the end.”
He went home at the end of the season, wanting to be back with his parents and seven siblings. He then withdrew from the AIS-AFL Academy, prompting some clubs to question his commitment. It was a fair question, too. Anderson was deeply affected when his brother, Joe, was delisted by Carlton at the end of 2010. It hurt to see Joe lose his sense of purpose, and Jed started wondering why it was even worth starting if that was how it would end.
”I saw what happened to my brother and I had some doubts if footy was what I wanted to do,” he said. ”He was only just getting into his career. When he got delisted he had to change everything and he struggled at first to find something new to do and I think telling the family was one of the hardest things for him. He found himself a new challenge in the end, but the thought of getting there and having everything thrown back in your face scared me a bit. To go back to Darwin and have nothing, I thought that would be really hard.”
There was much more than that going on, though. Around the same time, two of Jed’s close friends took their lives. One, he had grown up with in Katherine, the pair born just a handful of days apart. The other, a friend of his older brother, used to give him lollies and play-fight with him. Within six months another two friends had attempted to do the same thing, and Anderson recovered, struggled, recovered and then struggled: would it happen again? Why? When? And who would it be next?
”With my friend, we’d be talking and he was going through a hard time. He was really depressed and I said ‘if you need anything just call me’,” he said. ”I constantly messaged him and he didn’t really speak about it. I kept saying to him, ‘don’t do it, just don’t do it,’ and then it happened. And you go back to that conversation all the time and think, ‘what did I say wrong?’
”I kept thinking someone else close to me would do it again. I thought: ‘who’s going to be around? Who am I going to see? Who am I going to be saying goodbye to?’ You start thinking about all your friends, you see them write stuff on Facebook and the first reaction is, ‘what are they going to do? Are they going to do this too? What are they going through that’s so bad?’
”It’s all in the moment, I think. I think they would regret it, if they had got another chance. I think they took the easy way out rather than going to speak to someone. There’s always a second option and a second way to go about it and I think that’s what needs to be put across to everyone, that you don’t have to make that decision, you just have to get through that moment. Now, with my friends, we try and talk and get stuff out of everyone. Even when I have tough times I go and talk to them because I think the littlest thing you say could maybe help change somebody’s mind.”
Anderson isn’t the same kid who needed to go home two years ago. He feels less shy, less laidback, more comfortable. He started a traineeship with Workboats Northern Australia this year and feels like he has some ambition outside football, too.
He is tougher in more ways the one; last year Anderson injured his hamstring in the first five minutes of the NT Thunder’s grand final, didn’t want to tell anyone and got through the game. Three days after he lost his father he lined up for his team, kicking the first goal and playing perhaps his best game for the season. He knew his dad was waiting for the letter inviting him to the combine this week to arrive; he died only a few days before it arrived in the Anderson’s letter box. ”He was the person who never pressured me,” said Jed, ”but I remember when I made the All-Australian team last year, it was the first time I ever saw him cry in front of my eyes. It made me proud, that I’d made my dad feel that way.”
Now, he stresses less about the things that could go wrong. ”It sits in the back of your mind sometimes but you can’t wait for that and think bad things will happen. I never want to think ‘I wish I did this.’ If I make the wrong decisions I could be sitting back one day telling my kids ‘I could have been there, I could have been playing and I could have been one of the all-time great players.’ I might as well find out. I really want to find out.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.