The community inspiring ‘Marra’ on his football journey
Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge had clearly done his homework when he had his first serious discussion with footy's next big thing Jamarra Ugle-Hagan.
The coach called him 'Marra'.
It brought a smile to the face of the kid who has long been likened to a young Buddy Franklin, thanks to his lean 195cm frame, his speed, agility and his piercing left foot.
'Marra' has been the 18-year-old's preferred nickname for as long as he can remember.
His family calls him that.
His mates from Scotch College, his one-time Oakleigh Chargers premiership teammates and his friends do the same.
In time, he is happy for the wider football community to call him 'Marra' as he this week begins the exciting pathway to officially becoming an AFL footballer.
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Every AFL club wants the highly-rated key-forward who is also keen to spend time in the midfield; but only one club can lay claim to him.
The articulate, driven young man has the certainty of knowing the Bulldogs will secure him as part of their Next Generation Academy, even if Adelaide choses him as the No.1 pick in Wednesday night's national draft.
That would mean the Dogs would match the bid to secure the kid they have worked closely with for a number of years.
"When I first came into the (Bulldogs), Bevo called me 'Marra', which is my nickname," Ugle-Hagan told the Sunday Herald Sun this week.
"I told him he is welcome to call me Marra.
"I really look up to him as a coach. I have talked to him a bit, I've been for a drive with him, and had dinner with him. He is a really good bloke."
Just as the AFL superstar he has often been compared to is known for his nickname 'Buddy' instead of his birth name Lance, Ugle-Hagan won't be fazed if people settle on calling him Marra.
"My nickname comes from my family," he said. "When my family calls me 'Marra', I know I am fine. When they called me Jamarra, it feels like I am in trouble."
To know what makes Jamarra Ugle-Hagan tick as a footballer, you have to find out what makes him tick as a person.
The answer is found far from the hustle bustle of Melbourne. It comes in the serenity of his family's home at Framlingham, a historic Aboriginal community, nestled on the banks of the Hopkins River, 25km north-east of Warrnambool.
His name Jamarra means 'man' and derives from the Gunditjmara "mob", his ancestors in south-west Victoria.
So much of his story is entwined with his deep connection to his family, his Indigenous heritage and to his community at Framlingham.
Even as he drove back home earlier this week, he got a little emotional as he saw his young brothers kicking a footy, just as he had done as a kid.
"It's unreal," Ugle-Hagan said. "Even when I was driving up here, about five minutes out from getting here, I was like 'I am finally home again'".
FRAMLINGHAM AND FAMILY
Ugle-Hagan's family connection at Framlingham goes back through the generations.
His mother, Alice, has spent all but a few years of her life there.
His father, Aaron, who is non-Indigenous, moved into the area as an 18-year-old. It has been his home almost ever since.
"Mum has been here since day one, she had her mum and her nan here ... they have always been here, it goes a long way back," Jamarra said.
"Mum's dad was born in WA and her mum was born here.
"Dad was born in Australia, but his background is Irish. He's not Indigenous, but he loves it here as well. His mum lives just up the road too."
Ugle-Hagan is the second-eldest of six children.
His sister, Merinda (19), is the eldest. Then five boys followed - Jamarra, Kaawirn (15), Bungarie (9), Narrah (7) and Wirann (6) - which he says is "enough for our own basketball team."
"It was an unreal place to grow up," he said.
"There was always so much to do ... we'd go swimming in the river, play on the basketball courts and I did a fair bit of Indigenous dancing as a kid."
He once performed in front of a Richmond Football Club group including Shane Edwards, one of the AFL's best Indigenous players, and coach Damien Hardwick.
"That was crazy," he said. "I didn't even know who they were back then, but I know who they are now."
Aaron said of a young Jamarra: "He just loved being free, he would go eelling and fishing down the river, and dancing with his uncles."
"He did a lot of cultural stuff."
Jamarra sees it as his responsibility to teach his younger brothers what he learnt as a kid growing up, and to act as a role model for them for the future.
Footy almost runs through Ugle-Hagan's veins.
Asked where his talent comes from, his father insisted: "That comes from his mother's side."
On his maternal side are the Ugles and the Kicketts, with his mum's father having come from a family that produced a swag of leading footballers.
"We've got a big mob over there (in WA) with the Ugles and the Kicketts," Alice said.
"There has always been a big footy connection."
She recalled Jamarra showed early natural ability: "As soon as he could walk, as soon as he touched a ball, he loved it...being a left-footer, we all knew he was going to be something special."
Jamarra's early footy memories are of visiting his nan's house - only a few torpedos away - and seeing a photo of his uncle 'Possum' Clark taking a screamer.
'Possum' played in the Teal Cup under-age competition and played a few games for Essendon reserves before having a strong local career.
"Nan had that photo in her house and 'Possum' was sitting on someone's head taking a speckie and I thought 'I want to do that when I am older'," he said.
He learnt a lot from his uncle about the game.
His father played footy locally, and Jamarra even played a game with him at East Warrnambool in 2019.
"It was unreal," Jamarra said. "We didn't even get a photo at the game because he ended up breaking his rib, even though he played out the game."
Aaron joked: "I'm a backman and Jamarra is a forward, so we didn't see too much of each other that day."
Jamarra considered a basketball pathway, but his decision to choose football in Year 9 came down to geography.
Footy offered a camp to Fiji; the basketball equivalent with the Australian under 17's would have taken him to the Gold Coast.
"I was like, 'Yeah, let's go to Fiji'," he said.
Jamarra was offered a scholarship to attend Scotch College in Melbourne from Year 9.
Alice confessed she cried all the way from Framlingham to Melbourne and the tears barely subsided on the way back.
Aaron thought there was a chance Jamarra would change his mind right up until they drove off on the long road to Melbourne.
"I got a bit emotional beforehand," Jamarra said. "They (his parents) made me aware that it was what I wanted that mattered."
"My Dad spoke to me ... and said 'You are only three hours and one phone call away.'"
"I had some Indigenous boys there as well and we all developed great friendships. It just felt like you were on a camp with your brothers."
One of those he connected with was Maurice Rioli Jr., who is set to join Richmond at the draft.
Jamarra was just as driven with his studies as he was with his footy with Scotch College and Oakleigh Chargers.
He wanted to set an example for his siblings.
"Most of the cousins I grew up with never had the chance to finish year 12," he said.
"I was going to be the first male member of my family to finish VCE, so I set myself that goal."
His AFL career will officially start next Wednesday, but his family will be just as proud when his VCE results come back on December 30.
'DOING IT FOR NAN'
Jamarra played a big role as a bottom-age player in the Oakleigh Chargers' 2019 premiership side, alongside Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson, who made an immediate impact in their AFL careers with Gold Coast this year.
He was being touted as a likely 2020 No.1 draft pick as far back as last year.
But the pandemic meant he didn't play a game this year.
In fact he hasn't played an official game since being a part of an AFL under 17s squad that played a curtain-raiser to the AFL Grand Final in 2019.
This year he returned home to Framlingham during both Victorian lockdowns - and he got to work.
"I was just thinking to myself: 'The other boys (looking to be drafted) won't be training at this time', so I pushed harder and focussed on the things I needed to."
"We have a gym here, and Dad and I would go there every morning or sometimes twice a day."
"I don't know how many kilometres it is around our (Framlingham) block, but it's probably about 11 (kilometres). I would run that and get my little brother to ride his bike in front or behind me. We have a hill here and I would use that too. Then if it was a good day, I'd have a swim in the river."
He went from 83 to 92 kilos.
"They have been great for me," he said of the Bulldogs, who have worked on many aspects of his game including his kicking, through the academy program with David Newton.
He has also loved his engagement with senior players, including spending a week living with skipper Marcus Bontempelli.
"I can't thank them enough."
Through the hardship of 2020, Jamarra and his family lost their beloved Nan Violet, who was so admired in the Framlingham community.
It was a huge blow for the whole family, but Jamarra is determined to do her proud with his footy career.
"She was my No.1 fan and I want to succeed for her," he said.
"She was the strongest woman I've ever met.
"Nan believed me from the start, so everything I do in the future, I will do for her and for my family."
Jamarra wants to use his footy profile to assist young Indigenous children - including his brothers - to chase their dreams, just as he had the chance to do.
"I want to play AFL but when I get a bit older, I want to help Indigenous and multicultural boys and girls make their dreams come true."
MORE DRAFT NEWS
'I love the club': Young gun vows to repay Dogs' faith
Footy young gun Jamarra Ugle-Hagan has vowed to repay the faith the Western Bulldogs have invested in him as part of their Next Generation Academy, saying he hopes to make an immediate impression next year.
He is also desperate to become a role model not only for his family, but for Indigenous and multicultural boys and girls across the country.
Ugle-Hagan, 18, is considered the most exciting prospect in Wednesday night's national draft.
But while Adelaide is considering nominating the exciting young forward from Framlingham - about 25km north-east of Warrnambool - with its prized first pick, the Bulldogs have enough draft points to match the bid and will take him as part of their academy.
That means Ugle-Hagan will head to the Whitten Oval and he can't wait to start repaying the club for helping to furnish him as a player and also for their deep connection to the Framlingham community he calls home.
"They've been great for me … I wouldn't be here without their help," Ugle-Hagan said of the Bulldogs.
"It's such a good team and I know I have to go in there and fight for a spot.
"It would be great if I could (play in Round 1), but my first goal is to get picked up (on Wednesday) and my second goal is to get through the pre-season and see what happens from there. I'll be working as hard as I can."
Often compared to a young Buddy Franklin, with his left foot boot, his speed and his agility, Ugle-Hagan isn't fazed by the comparisons, saying he would rather embrace the pressure than become stressed by it.
"There is always heaps of pressure on the numbers one, or the first few players picked, with all the articles and the stories, but at the end of the day, it is just a number," he said.
"My basketball coach said to me 'who remembers who went as the No. 1 pick five or 10 years ago?'
"At the end of the day, it's not where you are picked, it's about how hard you want it and work for it.
"I am not a cocky person or anything like that. But I have this mindset where you have to think you can be the best if you want to be the best."
Ugle-Hagan lived for a week with Marcus Bontempelli as part of his early academy development, and he marvelled at the Bulldogs skipper's professionalism.
He has enjoyed his time spent with the Bulldogs and is excited about what 2021 can bring after a tough 2020 where he didn't officially play a game due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"When I went in there (initially at the Bulldogs) for two weeks, I was an Essendon supporter, but I felt like the day I left in the second week I was a Bulldogs fan," he said.
"I actually love the club. The players were unreal."
He is very keen to use his footy profile to assist young Indigenous children to chase their dreams and to win scholarships as he did.
"Obviously, I want to play AFL but when I get a bit older, I would like to start thinking more of others and to help Indigenous and multicultural boys and girls make their dreams come true," he said.
Originally published as The community inspiring 'Marra' on his football journey