In that long-ago time before COVID-19, Jacob Koschitzke liked to have things well-planned and laid out before him.

“I was very set in my ways, very particular, very punctual. It wasn’t ‘my way or the highway’, but I liked structure in my life," Koschitzke said.

He acknowledges with a wry smile that the predictability he clung to was one of the global pandemic’s earliest casualties, not least for AFL footballers who have effectively spent the past two seasons outrunning the virus in closely guarded packs.

When you don’t know where or when you’ll be playing until the middle of each week or later, you learn to roll with the punches.

“It’s taught me to be a lot more agile and adaptable," he said.

"I’ve had to mellow a bit more, which has probably helped my maturity in terms of games where I was looking too much into the past or too much into the future.

"I’m just staying in the present.”

The benefits of this harnessing of the mind were obvious throughout a 2021 in which the 21-year-old put the myriad misfortunes of his first two years as a Hawk behind him.

He moved from defence to the more familiar forward line surrounds of his junior days, and not only became an AFL footballer but an eye-catching member of an emerging outfit filled with chart-topping promise.

By season’s end, he’d kicked 27 goals from 20 games.

A five-goal haul against Adelaide in Round 6 grabbed headlines and fanned excitement, but it was his performance in the Round 22 win over Western Bulldogs in Launceston that Koschitzke remembers fondly with an eye to his commitment to live in the here and now.

On a blustery Tassie afternoon he ran to the right spots in the first half for little reward, and admits he would previously have sat down at half-time full of frustration.

“But I’ve matured in that space where I’ve been able to stay in the present, not look into the past or get too far forward and worry about possessions," he added.

He didn’t need to write goals or mantras on the back of his hand, being well versed on his key markers.

03:52 Mins
Published on

Koschitzke is a Rising Star

Dominating in the Hawks forward line and kicking 5 goals to secure the win against the Crows over the weekend. Jacob Koschitzke has been rewarded the Round 6 NAB Rising Star nomination for his efforts!

Published on

An early-season chat with former coach Alastair Clarkson made it clear his contribution wouldn’t be judged purely on goals, rather his attack on the contest and manic intensity to ensure his teammates can win the ball if he can’t – and the opposition’s interceptors are left clutching at thin air.

“That’s what kept me in the side for the whole year – I haven’t had great blocks of two or three weeks of kicking goals, I’ve been in there and just competed my backside off, brought the ball to ground.”

His second half against the Dogs was a showcase of modern forward work rate and impact as Koschitzke threw himself at contests, was laid out in a tackle “that woke me up a bit”, and crowned his work with goals either side of three-quarter time that spirited his team to arguably its best win of 2021.

“If you play your role in our system you don’t have to go and find the ball, the ball will come to you. In the second half it did – I did the same things, competed hard, ran the right patterns and it came to me," he said.

“I didn’t change too much, just maintained my outlook of staying in the present rather than looking to the past or future.”

If he does look far enough into the rear view mirror, he can see a kid having a kick with his Dad at the local footy in Brocklesby, half an hour north of their Albury home, where David Koschitzke is a past player and president.

Jacob was a St Kilda fan, as you would be when your first cousin is one of their stars.

Nick Riewoldt was his favourite, cousin Justin a close second, although the love was strained at times after the latter’s 200-game career finished and he returned home when Jacob was 14.

“He played for the Lavington Tigers in the Ovens and Murray League when he first went back, which was a bit weird – I was an Albury Tigers fan. Lavvy was pretty solid, there was a good rivalry between the two, and he was always dishing out a bit of punishment to the Albury lads. I wasn’t sure how to take that.”

Jacob had seen only the front half of the ground until his Murray Bushrangers days, when his teammates included several AIS AFL Academy forwards who had to be played every week, so he was shunted to the backline.

“I got stuck down there for two years,” he laughs.

He had hip surgery only weeks before the 2018 draft, which denied him a pre-season and preceded a play-a-couple, miss-a-couple introduction to the VFL, not helped by “annoying stuff” like a finger that needed a screw inserted.

In year two there were back issues, then he tackled best mate and housemate Matt Walker in an intraclub and injured his AC joint.

“I was already going to miss a fair chunk of the season, then COVID-19 hit.”

Finally fit just after the restart, he joined scrimmage matches that were sometimes as bizarre as 10 v 10 or 12 v 12.

Playing as a key defender, he found himself looking up the field at acres of space and thinking, “How am I going to defend all of this?”

“It was a frustrating first couple of years, I didn’t quite find my feet or feel like I belonged in a sense because I hadn’t shown anything yet.

“You didn’t want to play 12 v 12 because you’d just get smashed, we weren’t going too well as an AFL side.

"It made it pretty tough, a long back end to the year. I kind of just wanted to go home.”

He found it hard to exploit opponents, feeling that his natural marking strength had to cede to the defender’s onus on spoiling. His disposal count was low; something had to give.

He spoke to Chris Newman and Adem Yze, before Clarkson gave the green light for Koschitzke to play as a forward in a late-season scratch match against Port Adelaide at Alberton.

“I ended up taking a few marks, kicking a few goals, I looked a lot more instinctive and natural. I was like, ‘Hang on, I think I’ve found my mojo a bit here.’

“In my exit interview with Clarko it was, do I stick with being a defender or go forward? We felt forward was the best way to use my attributes – for a big bloke I’ve got a bit of speed, solid endurance, and marking was my number one strength.”

He secured a one-year deal and embarked on pre-season healthy of body and refreshed of mind.

Craig McRae’s arrival as forwards coach proved a blessing, as he put time into teaching Koschitzke structure and positioning and instilling belief and confidence.

“We watched a lot of vision, had open conversations about how to go about things. I didn’t look back from then.”

Now he looks to a 2022 in which neither McRae or Clarkson will be at Hawthorn, eternally grateful for all they did for him in a short time.

He treasures having had a season of watching Clarkson at close range, which left him awestruck at his ability to pick apart the opposition and school his forwards on how to “shift” the other mob’s defence to expose their weaknesses.

“Sometimes you think, I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I’ll do it. Then it comes to fruition in a game and you’re like, ‘Shit! This bloke is something!’ The way he analyses is just next-level.”

His world feels more settled, with football at its heart and a commerce-finance degree to chip away at on the fringes. After a crazy time for all, his off-season wish list is for a return to a simpler existence.

“When the walls come down you’ll find me in a pub somewhere with a few of the boys,” he said.

“We’ve been living in our little football bubble, it’ll be nice to be in a pub here or back home in Albury, having a quiet beer and talking about the past 18 months.”