2019 was a huge year for young Hawk Mitch Lewis.
The now-21-year-old gained regular exposure at senior level, a Round 18 Rising Star nomination, and, to top it all off, recognition as Hawthorn’s Most Promising Player during the Peter Crimmins Medal Ceremony last month.
But despite the string of achievements, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Hawks’ No.8.
Six senior games into his season, and after a two-goal performance in Round 11, Lewis was surprisingly sent back to VFL level to work on his trade.
He’d remain at Box Hill for a month.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear this four-week stint would contribute to an impressive rise through the back half of the year - arguably another of Alastair Clarkson’s master strokes.
“It was pretty disappointing (to be dropped) as you obviously want to play every game that you can,” Lewis reflects.
“But to go back to Box Hill and implement a few things that Clarko and my line coaches wanted me to do, and then to be repaid the faith and recalled into the team was a really valuable experience for me.
“I’m glad I got to go back to Box Hill and tweak a few things. I think it made me a better player.”
For proof, one need only look at his stats; in his final six games, Lewis averaged 2.2 goals, 2.5 contested marks and 14 disposals.
But his stint at Box Hill certainly wasn’t the only ingredient that contributed to a breakout season: the perfect recipe also included a pre-season base, a healthy dose of team comradery and a sprinkling of extra kilos that Lewis prepared earlier.
“It was great to get a solid pre-season under my belt, and I’d obviously put on six or seven kilos so I felt like I was a bit more comfortable at the level amongst the bigger bodies.
“But I said it all through the year, big Rough was really awesome for my development, along with Scott Burns, my line coach.
“There was a lot of behind the scenes work that went into my improvement on the field.
“It’s reassuring to see that a bit of hard work and blokes putting time into you can pay off.”
Lewis wasn’t the only Hawk to enjoy a purple patch in late 2019; the 21-year-old spoke of the excitement lining up alongside a spate of young Hawks who were attacking their footy with the same feverish intent.
“It was really exciting that we had a pretty young forward line towards the end of the year,” Lewis said.
“Tim O’Brien was doing some great things up forward, and to be playing with guys like Ollie (Hanrahan) who I was drafted with, and Conor Nash, it was just a really exciting group to be with.
“Hopefully we can build on that momentum as we head into 2020.”
With the first to fourth year players kicking off pre-season training this week, Lewis is on a modified program after undergoing shoulder surgery early in the off-season.
Despite the injury setback, the forward’s motivation is at an all-time high.
“I’m probably two or three weeks ahead of where I thought I’d be when I first had my surgery, which is really pleasing,” he said.
“I’m obviously trying to get back as quickly as I can, but I should be into some light skills in the next couple of weeks.
“The goals for now are to get the shoulder right, be up and firing in full training after Christmas, have a good pre-season campaign and then hopefully fight for a Round 1 spot.”
The young Hawks will have two weeks of intense training before their senior teammates return, and Lewis believes the group will seize this opportunity with both hands.
“It’ll be good for us younger boys to drive the standard, especially when the older guys come back.
“I think a lot of the younger guys are going to step up in 2020, which is going to be very exciting.”