From England to the new coach of the Calder Cannons’ boys’ program, it’s been a different journey for Sam Willatt.
Willatt was last week appointed the Cannons new coach, replacing Andrew Sturgess who joined Fremantle’s AFL staff before Christmas.
For Willatt, who joined the Cannons late last year as an assistant coach, it’s been a whirlwind few weeks.
“It’s been a very busy couple of weeks since I found out,” he said.
“I had a little thought about going for the role and to be honest I didn’t think I would be a chance.
“I thought I would see what I could learn from the process. To be honest, I don’t think it has sunk in yet.
“I’m still teaching full time and at the moment I still consider myself a teacher. I think it will hit home when I come to the club every day.”
Willatt joined the Cannons after spending two years at Coburg as an assistant coach. It was Sturgess, who encouraged him to come across.
He said the opportunity to be able to work in the pathway system and programs like Vic Metro attracted him to the role.
Willatt’s football background is different than most though.
He was first introduced to the sport at Birmingham University in 2012 as an 18-year-old.
After receiving England and Great Britain representative honours, Sam was picked to play against the touring AIS AFL Academy in 2014 in London where he got best on ground for the European Legion team.
In 2015, Willatt relocated to Melbourne to pursue his AFL dream.
He was on the Footscray Bulldogs list in 2016 and had a short stint at Sandringham without playing a game as persistent knee injuries ultimately forced him into early retirement and into coaching.
Willatt said he could have never imagined being in the role he is in when he was back home in England.
“When you tell people they look at you funny,” he said. “No one singles me out, I just bring a different mindset and background.
“I don’t think they get it back home. I spoke with mum and dad and they didn’t understand. They ere pretty stoked… I tried to explain it the best I can, but they don’t understand the sport to be honest.”
Willatt doesn’t have much time to let the news settle in, with the playing group back in training ahead of the season.
He said for him it’s important to take a step back and process it all before getting down to work. He said having been there since November he had been able to build some strong relationships with the building group already.
“I want to start to build and get ready for the practice games,” he said. “It’s going to be a journey.”
Cannons regional talent operations lead Sebastian Spagnuolo said Willatt has a ‘person first’ mentality around athlete management and the ability to educate and develop are his strengths.