Lewis Hayes. (Photo: Gallivant Photography)

Lewis Hayes might have enjoyed a solid debut season in the VFL, but the promising Don is already looking ahead to his next challenge.

The 18-year-old defender continued to improve over the course of his first season in red and black, averaging 15 disposals and five marks per game on the last line of defence and appearing in all 18 games.

Looking to maximise his potential, Hayes is drawing focus to a big off-season in the weight room to better prepare himself as a key back.

Despite the old adage that key-position players can take longer to flourish, the 199cm prospect is willing to fast-track his development as best as possible.


“I’ve had chats with ‘Scotty’ (Senior Coach Brad Scott) around the idea that just because it’s my first year and I’m a taller, rawer player, it doesn’t mean I can’t push into the senior side,” Hayes said.

“I feel like a lot of hard work in the gym and getting some little things right will help me step out and perform to my best at the highest level.

“I’ve spoken to quite a few coaches about it and they’ve told me to just stay diligent and put my head down for the rewards to come.”

As the year wore on, Hayes notably grew in confidence as an interceptor and began to take on tasks against more experienced opponents.

Hayes believes the learnings taken from his exposure to seasoned forwards will hold him up well for a potential step up to AFL level in 2024.

“It was really good to go up against guys that have played a bit of AFL footy. Especially as the season went on, I felt like I was just getting more confident and really hit my stride late,” Hayes said.

“You learn a heap off playing against more matured and experienced bodies, so I was pretty grateful to get a run against some of those guys.”

An important factor for Hayes in 2023 was the presence of development coach Michael Hurley, who was quick to take the fellow defender under his wing.

Having the support of the former All Australian among the wider coaching group gave Hayes a great platform to ease into his early months as a professional athlete.


“’Hurls’ (Hurley) has been huge for me. As soon as I got into the club he was one of the first to get around me and he’s been massive for my development this year,” Hayes said.

“We’ve done all our reviews together and worked pretty closely one-on-one, so to have him in my corner has been awesome.

“Those first couple of months take quite a while in terms of getting your mind around everything, but the last six-to-seven months I’ve really learnt and grown a lot.

“It’s been a really good year for me, developing relationships with teammates and coaches has been unreal.”

Looking ahead to his first full off-season at the professional level, Hayes is looking to stay diligent and jump right into the work at hand, with his personal goals for next year very clear.

“Obviously playing senior footy is the main goal for me next year. I’ve made a promise to myself to knuckle down and come back the best I can,” Hayes said.

“I want to put on a bit of size, get stronger and take my game to the next level which I’m willing to do.

“I’m ready to put my head down and get to work.”