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Bont: Into the great wide open

January 1, 2018 6:00 AM

Marcus Bontempelli's Charles Sutton Medal Speech Marcus Bontempelli speaks to the audience as he is announced the 2017 winner for the Charles Sutton Medal.

When 23-year-old Scott West rose to accept the second of his seven best and fairest awards at the Bellarine Ballroom at the Melbourne Convention Centre back in November of 1997, he became the youngest duel Sutton Medallist in the Club’s history.  That is, until now. 

It’s been an extraordinary AFL journey so far for Marcus Bontempelli.  

A premiership player, an All-Australian, a two-time captain of the AFLPA’s 22under22 team, 39 Brownlow votes, and now, at 21, the youngest ever to ever win two Sutton Medals.   

So what is it about this young man from Eltham?

Time seems to slow down for the great ones on the footy field.  While arms and legs flail around them, they seem calm among the chaos.  You can’t teach it.  You either have it or you don’t.  

The way he weaves his 92kg frame through traffic is the kind of thing people come through the gates to see; the way he seemingly wills his team to victory when the game is on the line, and the way he disposes of the ball at times is something someone his size has no business doing.

And he does all of this at 193cm, or 6 ft 4 in the old language.   That’s the same height as Chris Grant, and he’s a midfielder.  In any other era, this guy is a key position player.  Think about that for a second.

There was a moment in Round 1 against Collingwood at the MCG that tells a story.

The scores were tied up midway through the third term when a high ball heads into the Bontempelli direction, one out with Brayden Maynard about 25 metres out from goal.  The Collingwood defender scraps and holds as the ball spills free.  A second Magpie, Henry Schade, arrives and gathers for a moment but he’s stripped off the footy by, who else?

Then in one motion, ‘The Bont’ fans out from the contest, and expertly positioned, takes a handball and slams it through on his left as another Pie closes in.  The Dogs never looked back and went on to a 14-point win.  

It was extraordinary sequence of play for such a big man yet you probably won’t see it on a highlights package because we take this stuff for granted now.

In just he’s fourth year of football he averaged 23 disposals and four marks per contest and kicked 20 goals across 22 games, playing as a key forward whenever the coach called.  He also lead the club in contested possessions (11.8pg), clearances (90), contested marks (21), tackles (138) and finished second in metres gained (8,474).

But it’s more than all of that, it must be. 

Typically gracious when accepting the 2017 Sutton Medal, lost among the thank yous, Bontempelli said something that is perhaps a glimpse into what sets him apart from the pack.  A simple phrase.  

“What I’ve been able to understand from a lot of the older players throughout my career so far is that you never get two seasons that are the same,” he told the 1300 strong crowd at Crown Palladium in October.

“You have to continuously and consciously try to change the game and go for the gap a little bit. “

Go for the gap.  There it is.  It’s the work ethic, it’s never being satisfied, it’s staying hungry, it’s striving for greatness.

This article original appeared in Bulldog: 2017 Yearbook.  Click here to become a member and receive your exclusive copy in 2018.