New Roo can run and jump again

Written By Unknown on Senin, 21 Januari 2013 | 14.43

Former Port Adelaide utility Ben Jacobs is relishing a fresh start at North Melbourne. Picture: George Salpigtidis Source: Herald Sun

BEN Jacobs felt anchored to the ground. The problem was the bones impinging on nerves in his ankles.

After surgery to remove them, even more restrictive was the scar tissue that formed in his joints.

By the time the curtain fell on his second season at Port Adelaide last year, the man once likened to a young Luke Hodge had lost all power and flex in his ankles.

There was only frustration at the prospect of an AFL career going backwards and a feeling in his gut that things had to change.

Now, at his new club North Melbourne, the former Brighton Grammar captain can finally run and jump again, without feeling like there is concrete in his boots.

After another operation to clean out the scar tissue, he is no longer a tied-down footballer.

"When I saw the surgeon he was pretty amazed how I could still run and even get through games at all," Jacobs told the Herald Sun.

"There was so much scar tissue which was blocking the tendons from moving freely, so there was no range of motion.

"I was literally running without any flexion in the ankle, which meant I couldn't sprint. After I strung six games together, just even trying to jump was a task."

As trade time crept closer last year, the just turned 21-year-old desperately wanted two things -- a club that could offer him top-line medical facilities and a life closer to home, near his bayside family and friends.

If North was hamstrung by the AFL's worst resources in the past, it now has some of the best at its Aegis Park headquarters, with an injury management record last year to back it up.

From their first meetings, Jacobs and Roos' coach Brad Scott clicked. The prospect of a permanent midfield berth also appealed.

During the trade period, Port tried hard to hang on to the 185cm utility, turning down the offer of a second-round draft pick from North. But in Jacobs' mind, he was already gone, albeit at the risk of being picked by another club in the national draft.

"It was a long process and I got along so well with the people at Port Adelaide that for it to be extended and as long as it was -- it wasn't ideal," Jacobs said.

"I was certain it (my new home) was going to be North, but I think a few clubs tried to play a few mind games and throw off North.

"I got late mail that I was going somewhere else (Essendon). But I think anyone other than North would have been stupid to take me because North was the only club I wanted to come to.

"So I'm loving it and very happy to be back."

The bonus for North Melbourne was it eventually secured Jacobs with pick No.37, only two years after it was prepared to part with pick No.17 (which it used on Shaun Atley) for him.

Including a bout of glandular fever, which stripped 12kg from his frame and hospitalised him for five days during his first year at Port, it has been at times a torturous start to life in the AFL.

"Because of the sickness and the injuries I just never felt myself (at Port), so it's hard to play like yourself," Jacobs said.

"For me, personally, to get my body back on track and actually play consistent quality AFL footy I needed to be back home and around family and get the resources I could around here.

"I was obviously struggling a bit there physically, needing to get my body right and to fast-track that being home, I think for everyone it was the best option."

North recruiters recall his dominant under-18 form.

Back in 2010, he was an authoritative, mid-sized ball magnet.

He was someone who could mark overhead, take an intercept mark in defence or barge through a contest and use his penetrating kicking to set up attacking opportunities.

Throughout the 2010 national championships, the strong-bodied utility averaged 29 possessions at 69 per cent efficiency, including a 47-possession haul against South Australia.

But his allround, long-kicking style is yet to materialise at AFL level.

Champion Data rated his kicking efficiency last year (60.7 per cent) as below average. For a defender, his rebounds per game (1.2) was classed as poor.

But Scott believes his new ball-carrier has weapons in his game and wants to shift the 26-gamer upfield, where he can hit the scoreboard.

"We were really looking to build the versatility of our midfield and Ben shows a lot of flexibility on mostly wing/back," Scott said.

"But we think he can play forward as well as an inside midfielder.

"Once we sat down and talked to him about what we could provide, he was really keen to come here.

"I think it is a great step for North Melbourne that a player who has pretty much got a choice as to where he can go, decides that 'I'm going to North Melbourne'.

"We had a lot of data on him from the (Draft) Combine because he went only one pick before Shaun Atley and we had him in the mix for our first pick (No.17) then."

Regarded as an elite kick in his junior days, Jacobs has not lost faith in his disposal. Now his ankles are on the mend, the confidence is returning.

"I think that has got to be a weapon for me to play good footy and make a mark in the AFL," Jacobs said. "I've got to be kicking well and that's something I still want to be a big weapon for me."

After a devastating elimination finals exit, copping a 96-point thrashing from West Coast in Perth, North made some aggressive moves in the off-season, securing two former first-round draft picks -- Jacobs and Melbourne midfielder Jordan Gysberts (No.11), in an exchange for versatile tall Cameron Pedersen.

Whereas Gysberts is a more reserved character, Jacobs is already a strong, encouraging voice around the club.

His leadership quickly came to the fore during the club's high-altitude pre-season camp in Utah.

"He is just a really driven guy, bordering on almost too serious," Scott said.

"We have a lot of players who drive the culture of the club, but we've also got a lot who do their job -- they don't necessarily want to drive the direction, they just want to be part of it.

"But Ben will be a player who will drive the future direction of the club."

A high achiever by nature, the former Sandringham Dragons player has put extreme pressure on himself throughout his ups and downs.

It is something he has learned to manage better in his first two years.

"I'm pretty hard on myself," Jacobs said.

"I think I could have been a bit impatient early and it could have led to me being so sick and injuries and stuff.

"But I'm finding that balance now and growing up as a player and more mentally.

"I think you've got to be hard on yourself if you are going to get anywhere being in a such a cut-throat system.

"It's one of those things that you can do so you can sleep easy at night and not have any regrets.

"I love that I've got that trait, but I'm definitely getting smarter about it.

"The guys here at North -- being in a professional system -- you have to realise you've got to put some faith in them.

"When you've got the faith you can kind of relax a bit yourself, know that your body is being taken care of and so is your footy."

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