As Luke Nankervis works the wings and the flanks, leading up at the ball-carrier and creating an option for his midfielders, it’s not just opposing defenders that are trailing him.
At the end of his long brown hair, bouncing along as he runs, you’ll find a braid that hangs between his shoulder blades when standing still.
He’s copped some grief for it on the field, and it certainly catches the attention of onlookers when he flies by. But it’s not an attention seeking mechanism, rather a tribute to his Star Wars fandom.
“If you’re training to be a jedi, they’ve all got braids,” Nankervis said. “I don’t know why, but they’ve all got braids like mine.”
“It’s been two years since I started growing it.
“I love myself a bit of Star Wars, so it probably started from that and it just kept growing and growing.
“Not many people like it, calling it a bit ‘ratty’ and filthy but that’s what I love about it.”
Standing 189cm and possessing elite agility (preseason NAB League testing saw him ranked ninth in the talent pool), the half-forward is a matchup headache for opposition coaches.
He is both strong overhead and damaging at ground level, with and without the ball, working in tandem with Blake Howes and Lachie Benton to service the forwards.
His footballing talents, including a signature side-step, were established in the backyard dodging his older brothers and honed at the Bentleigh Junior Football Club, culminating in a premiership in the under 16s in 2019.
When not playing at Sandringham, Nankervis represents the Bentleigh Football Netball Club in the Southern Football League, where he was recently described as “as light as anything you’d find in a pillow factory” in the Moorabbin Glen Eira Leader.
2020 was shaping-up to be a big year for the 17-year-old, having been selected to join the Dragons squad as a bottom-ager. However the outbreak of COVID-19 meant that the season ground to a halt just as quickly as it began.
Having come to terms with the disappointment of a curtailed year, Nankervis began looking for other advantages on the periphery that would help his footy. He adopted a regimented sleep cycle, got on top of his diet and nutrition and added seven kilograms to his frame, in order to hit the ground running in 2021.
The time spent in the gym provided the opportunity to work through the complications of Osgood-Schlatter syndrome, a growth injury developed in teenage years causing pain and swelling around the knee.
“It came on around year six, and it would be an aching pain after I’d run or if I’d jump on it,” he said. “Getting into the under 13/14/15/16s, that’s when it really became a problem where I wouldn’t be able to train most nights at footy, and by the third quarter I would be sore, struggling to run.
“It’s not a really horrible injury that will do much damage but it’s just an injury that’s hard to fix.
“Throughout COVID I worked in the gym strengthening my quads and calves, so it hasn’t bothered me for a while now which is good.”
The influence of his father, Paul, plays a significant role in pushing Nankervis to be the best that he can be. He was a member of the Melbourne Demons under 19s squad in the 1980s and had a long career at Ormond in the Victorian Amateur Football Association, but according to Luke, he laments not breaking through to the top level.
“He bought a house at a young age and was working hard from a young age and didn’t focus that much on footy, but he was definitely a good footballer,” Nankervis said. “He always regrets not trying to go all the way.”
“He’s always willing to help me, push me; If I want to be pushed, he’ll push me, if I don’t, he won’t, he’s always been respectful in that sense.”
Away from the footy field, Nankervis is exploring learning a trade once his days at Bentleigh Secondary College come to a close, citing memories of helping his old man on home renovations as sparking his interest in carpentry.
If all goes to plan, an apprenticeship will come in conjunction with an AFL career. He knows that he’s still got elements of his game that need fine-tuning, and is doing extras before training with the coaching staff to refine his craft, but his childhood dream is beginning to take shape as a real possibility.
“I’ve been working hard, dedicating basically everything to it.
“I always wanted to do it (get drafted) but I didn’t know how, but now its become a reality and I know that I can do it.
“I just love footy I guess, I love the culture around the clubs, the love for the contest, I just can’t wait to play the next game and improve.”
Come 2022, his days of maintaining the justice and peace in the Galactic Republic may have to be put on hold.