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Life focus bigger than football right now for Miller-Lewis

Friday, July 7, 2017 - 1:56 PM by Chris Pike
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JERMAINE Miller-Lewis dreamed of playing AFL football with Hawthorn so being drafted and spending the last two years at the Hawks was something he will always cherish, but when he found himself back home in 2017 he took the brave choice to take a step back and decide what made him happy.

Miller-Lewis was always a Hawthorn fan so he couldn't believe his luck when he landed at the Hawks ahead of the 2015 AFL season. 

He was always a talented youngster coming through the Warriors and colts programs at South Fremantle and despite missing all of 2014 through injury, Hawthorn still gave him a shot in the AFL.

Injuries the past two years more than anything meant he never quite was able to reach his potential and make his AFL debut. He did play some strong VFL football, but injuries meant he just didn’t get out on the field quite enough.

It was then a shock to the system somewhat for Miller-Lewis to be told late last year of his delisting and to then find himself back at home in Perth, and back in the WAFL system at South Fremantle taking part in pre-season training.

All of a sudden at 21 years of age when most young men are still yet to start doing whatever their careers will be, Miller-Lewis had his AFL career potentially behind him.

He did the pre-season training with South Fremantle but by the end of the summer, he was perhaps beginning to feel that playing football is what others expected of him and not necessarily what was his No. 1 priority right now.

That's not an easy decision to make especially for a young man, but Miller-Lewis took the gutsy call to take a break from football, at least at WAFL level, in 2017 to really find out what made him happy in life and to find out his calling having spent the past two years as a full-time footballer.

Finding a job and helping Indigenous youth in a number of areas quickly took up Miller-Lewis' time. He found he has plenty to offer and a passion to work with the youth, but it's always been his artwork that has been his true calling.

Both before being drafted and while in Melbourne with the Hawks, Miller-Lewis turned to his art to be his escape from the pressures of football and that's why when South Fremantle asked if he would design the club's NAIDOC Round jumper for 2017, he jumped at the opportunity.

BULLDOGS TO WEAR SPECIAL JUMPERS FOR NAIDOC ROUND 

It's something he will always make sure he finds time for no matter what else is happening in his life.

"I turned to artwork because of the pressures of football and other areas of life back when I was 15 and 16. I was struggling to connect on that level being a young city boy and having a lot of questions culturally about an Aboriginal man," Miller-Lewis said.

"I wanted to explore my culture and I as lucky enough that my mother was very supportive of that and pushed me to do more of it. She also made sure I had opportunities to do artwork and dance which I'll be forever grateful for."

Miller-Lewis did feel like he was ready for a season in the WAFL in 2017 after losing his place on Hawthorn's list, but as season itself drew closer, he was feeling more and more like it wasn’t the best thing for his happiness or mental well-being right now.

"It had been a bit of a build up of things for me. Obviously with the delisting last year I took it OK at the start, but it then really hit me a few months later when this season was getting closer," he said.

"I grew up barracking for the Hawks so it hit very close to home when I left there because I did have a genuine love for the club. But I have had to come to terms with that and I can't let it define me or who I am.

"It's something I was lucky to get the chance for as long as I did and every day people lose their jobs and have to deal with things, so I don’t look at it any different to that. It was just a job I was let go from."

Miller-Lewis will look to play some sort of football to close out the 2017 season in the country and will weigh up his future in 2018. And considering his age, if he did come back and star with South Fremantle in the WAFL, he's more than capable of earning another AFL opportunity.

But right now life outside of football is what he's focusing on.

"Physically I feel more than capable of still playing at a high level with my football, but mentally I just needed some time to myself to ask myself some questions about how to find a meaningful pathway in life," Miller-Lewis said.

"Football won't always be there so I want to set myself for life after footy and that's what I've been focusing on.

"I feel like it's important to explore those areas of my life that's interesting at the moment in terms of working with youth, social and emotional and well-being in the community and social awareness training.

"There's a massive amount of interest I have of what's going on in the world outside of footy. Having this break has helped me explore those areas and kick some goals off the field."

Finding out what the world has to offer outside the pressures of football is something that Miller-Lewis wanted to use 2017 to do and so far he couldn’t be happier with the results.

"Spending this time has helped me as a person find out what's important and the No. 1 priority has to be my own mental health and well-being, and making sure that I'm happy with what I am doing and making sure I feel fulfilled every day," he said.

"I want to feel like I'm doing my bit in terms of what I can give to the community and using the best of my abilities to do that. I also want to make sure my family is happy and I always say to them, that if I can't love myself first I can't love anyone else so that's what I'm focusing on.

"Having that time to explore that side of myself is very important not only to me individually but a lot of other young men out there as well who might go through challenging times."

Looking back on his time with Hawthorn in the AFL, Miller-Lewis will always be grateful for the opportunity and for the growth the club helped him experience on and off the field.

"I'm extremely honoured to have had the chance to be at Hawthorn. A lot of young boys wish they had the chance that I had so I'm honoured to have been given the opportunity," Miller-Lewis said.

"In my own mind, sometimes I think I got a bit lucky in terms of missing all of my draft year through injury and still getting picked up, but the experience in those couple of years and life skills that I learned from being there in an elite organisation has helped me transition that into every day life and work."