Most 22-year-old footballers believe their AFL dreams are over if they haven’t been drafted. The overwhelming majority of players are selected at 18 and it takes something special to convince an AFL club to take a punt on a mature-aged player.

But Tendai Mzungu is different. He’d never even nominated for a draft as a teenager, believing he simply wasn’t good enough to be considered.

The Perth defender finally filled in the nomination form as a 22-year-old in 2008 and now he’s a Fremantle Docker at age 24.

Mzungu’s story should warm the hearts of every footballer in the country who has gone to bed dreaming of playing at the elite level. Born in Melbourne to a Zimbabwean father and Perth mother, he fell in love with the game and never gave up.

But football wasn’t always about personal success for the versatile Mzungu. Coaches at Trinity Aquinas Football Club were stunned by his form in 2004 and told him he should be playing in the WAFL. But Mzungu’s closest friends played for Trinity Aquinas and he loved going into battle with them every week.

“One of the first things we identified with Tendai was that he was too good for the competition,” former Trinity Aquinas colts coach Andy Leinasars said.

“We told him he should have been playing for Perth, but he was loyal to his mates and such a nice kid that he just wanted to play for the club. I spoke to him about it at the end of the season but he said that he could sense a premiership was around the corner and wanted to be a part of it.

“He dominated that next season. He was the Gary Ablett of the competition in colts. He produced performance after performance that made him a standout. He smashed everyone in the competition best and fairest and we won the premiership.

“The funny thing was, he didn’t think he was that good. He just thought he was doing his part for the team. He was a really nice kid.”

Mzungu went from Trinity Aquinas colts player to Perth league player in the space of one summer. He made his WAFL debut as a 20-year-old in round one, picked up 19 possessions and kicked a goal to show why every-one had been telling him to try his luck at State league football.

It took until 2008 for Mzungu to become a regular member of the league team, but he took a big step last year and a colossal one in 2010.

Coach Andrew Jarman released him to the midfield, while also playing him in defence, and he produced some brilliant attacking football, averaging 28 possessions a game.

He won Perth’s best and fairest, got invited to the AFL draft tests and played in the WAFL under-23 All-Stars game at Subiaco Oval.

WAFC high-performance manager Craig Starcevich said Mzungu’s performance that day confirmed the belief that he was ready for the AFL.

“He played on the wing in the first half. Tendai and Caleb Shadbolt were clearly the two best players on the ground at half-time,” Starcevich said.

“But then he was sent to the back line and he was really good. It’s fair to say that there isn’t a lot of accountability in those sorts of games. A lot of guys just rack up the stats. But he went to half-back and defended really well, too. That showed a lot about him I reckon.

“His athletic shape shows he could be anything. He’s got elite speed and elite endurance. It’s a good story.”

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