A RESOLVE to improve his training habits after being told his first grade spot was in jeopardy has helped Turvey Park youngster Baxter Wallett develop into one of the Riverina League's most dangerous forwards this season.
Bulldogs coach Michael Mazzocchi didn't beat around the bush with the 18-year-old early in the pre-season, telling him he might not feature in seniors unless he trained harder.
The transformation has been incredible, with Wallett sitting second on the league's goalkicking race with 20 in just four games, behind only GGGM's George Alexander (24).
Mazzocchi said the teenager deserved plenty of credit for the work he's put in to improve his game.
"Baxter's pre season last year was chalk and cheese, and even his first four weeks or so of this pre season were very ordinary," Mazzocchi said.
"We had a conversation after about the first month that he was no certainty to play first grade. To his credit, he has not missed a training run since, and he's here an hour early taking shots. His maturity towards his footy has been incredible.
"He's changed from being a young fella who turned up to some training runs, to turning up to every one and doing extras.
"He's doing the hard work and he deserves everything he gets. He didn't get the sulks, he turned up to training the next week (after our chat) and has worked hard."
Renowned as a strong overhead mark with good leading patterns, Wallett's follow-up work once the ball hits the ground has been a noticeable improvement in his game.
"I needed to improve my training load and put in that bit extra to build up my fitness," Wallett said.
"The pre season (early on) wasn't the best it could have been. He (Mazzocchi) expected me to put more work in and I did, he just backed me all the way.
"I've worked on a my fitness a lot out of footy, and I'm getting a lot out of it. Rocking up an hour early to take shots at goal, those things will get me to where I want to be.
"One thing 'Zocc' has been talking to me about is the ground ball. You can't just try and take marks, you've got to follow up as well and I've been working on that since the start of the year."
The Bulldogs have won three straight games, albeit against lower-ranked opposition, and a bigger challenge awaits over the next month.
After Sunday's trip to Coolamon they host unbeaten Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong and Wagga Tigers, before another tough road test against Mangoplah-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes.
"Our main focus is winning contested footy and we take the wins where we can, but Coolamon is a big game and one we've had our eyes on for a while," Wallett said.
Wallett grinned when asked if he envisaged he'd be second on the goalkicking tally after six rounds.
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