Jamie Stanton’s story has been shaped by a hunger to develop.
She’s strong-willed and extremely motivated, a potent combination for any challenges that come her way.
Stanton has always had that competitive spirit.
It helped her find success in a junior soccer career and has seen her develop into one of the elite AFLW players in the league.
Growing up she was a kid who just wanted to be involved in everything.
As soon as she could walk Stanton was doing gymnastics and as a three-year-old was involved in marching band.
Stanton describes it as “embarrassing”, being a toddler walking down the street banging on her triangle to no discernible tune.
But that was how she got started, and it didn’t take long for her to soon progress to ball sports.
“I started playing soccer when I was four which was earlier than you’re allowed to play,” Stanton told SUNS Media.
“The competition had to put in special consideration for me to be able to do Under 6’s twice.
“I was just really active and wanted to do something so mum and dad were really good with getting me involved.”
Stanton loved being a part of a team, loved the camaraderie.
Being one of only two girls in the team, Stanton quickly learnt to match it with the boys.
She became very good, good enough to earn selection in an Under 12 South Coast regional team when she was 10.
The representative accolades continued to follow.
When she was 15, her regional coach put the prospect of playing at college level in the United States on her radar.
She made the Australian Schoolgirls team in her last year of high school when she was 17, then soon after went over to the US to play on a scholarship for Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky.
“It was the best experience of my life I think,” Stanton said.
“It was awesome going to a college and experiencing sport over there is massive.”
But Stanton lost her love for soccer overseas.
Looking back now, she thinks it all started to change when she was in her mid-teens.
“I just fell out of love with it and knew that I wasn’t really interested in playing soccer forever,” she said.
“I liked soccer because I was good at it, not because I actually enjoyed it.
“I think I enjoyed it in the early years but I think when I got to about 14 I was in that cycle of making rep teams so it just became this process where I had to keep doing it.
“Only now do I look back on it and realise that was actually happening, but at the time you don’t know.”
Originally pencilled in to be in Kentucky for four years, Stanton found herself on a plane back home after just one.
She wanted to set herself up for life, so re-enrolled in university and began studying her teaching degree at QUT in Brisbane.
Stanton gave up sport for a while as she studied her degree.
She was being a “proper uni student” she says.
For a part-time job she worked at a New Zealand-based burger chain called Burger Fuel.
The company actually flew her over to New Zealand one year for training where she spent a month learning how to make burgers in their existing stores.
Unfortunately the chain never really took off in Australia, but Stanton sometimes still gets cravings for their burgers.
In her third year at university, Stanton had a tutorial which would change everything.
She met a girl in the class during an icebreaker activity who played football.
“She said she played footy and then we started chatting and she said, ‘oh you’d be pretty good with your soccer background, you should surely be able to kick’,” Stanton said.
“I told her I was Gold Coast-based and she gave me the contact details for Coolangatta and said that I should give it a go.
“We’ve been best mates ever since pretty much.”
That friend is Courtney Daniec, who lined up alongside Stanton for the SUNS in Game 3 of the QW Winter Series last weekend.
“She got me into footy so I owe her quite a bit actually,” Stanton said.
“Back then I didn’t think one little comment would end up getting me to where I am today.”
That tutorial was in February of 2016, but it wasn’t until April when Stanton actually mustered the courage to go down to a training session at Coolangatta.
“I got to Cooly the week before Round 1 so had missed all the pre-season and practice matches, literally just rocked up,” Stanton said.
“I cramped in my first session because I had done nothing in two or three years so decided I needed to stay because I liked it but was also unfit and couldn’t run a session out without cramping.”
Stanton played her first season of AFL football for Coolangatta that season.
In October she was drafted into the AFLW.
Stanton had no expectations going into that first AFLW draft.
After all, she’d only been playing football for six months; she didn’t even know all the rules.
“I originally put in for the draft because there was a rumour going around that there would be a train-on squad with the Lions, so I put in for that,” she said.
“I thought I had some potential but I didn’t think I was anywhere near ready.
“I was thinking in maybe two or three years time I reckon if I’m in that squad I’d have a good chance to develop and hopefully be ready to have a go at it.”
Stanton was under the radar.
She hadn’t even been considered for any sort of representative team that year and hadn’t spoken to anyone about her aspirations to be drafted one day.
But that changed when she attended an open trial night hosted by the Brisbane Lions in the lead-up to the draft.
It was the first time she met her former coach Craig Starcevich, and current SUNS AFLW Senior Coach David Lake.
“It was really weird that night, it was a cold and dewy Queensland night and I didn’t think I did anything special,” she said.
“If you ask Lakey he has a very different recollection of that night than I do, he pretty much said to me that night was the night I got drafted.
“He said there was something that he and Starce both saw in me that they didn’t see in other people and they both assumed it came from my soccer background.
“It was just some of the stuff I was doing in terms of game sense from somebody who was such an outsider.
“I still look back on it and think I was horrible, I couldn’t kick, my skills were rubbish and I was really unfit.”
Soccer had consumed such a large part of her life, but Stanton was surprised by how quickly she fell in love with AFL football.
It was a new challenge for her, another opportunity for development.
She thrived off it.
“As a soccer player I hated training but it was the opposite with footy.
“I just wanted to learn, I felt so out of my depth in terms of the fact I’d come from a sport where I’d been really good and had known everything and I’d just rock up and do the process.
“But this was so much different where I had to learn the process.
“I really enjoyed that side of things with learning something new. Giving myself a challenge as well, it was something I wasn’t good at but I wanted to learn how to be good at.
“So many things were a challenge but I just loved it, I wanted to keep getting better and challenge myself with something different.”
Stanton knew she had plenty of work to do in her first year as an AFLW player.
Her biggest area of improvement needed to be in her skills, they weren’t up to scratch.
“Honestly they were horrible, I probably can’t swear but they were as bad as they can get,” Stanton joked.
“I got drafted over players that potentially back then you could say should have been drafted before me.
“So Starce and Lakey took a big risk in drafting me and night one it was definitely evident how huge that risk was.
“I didn’t even have a kicking technique, we had to strip my kicking technique down to the ball drop, the foot position.
“We were doing Auskick stuff with me at an AFLW level trying to get me prepared to play Round 1 in two months time.”
She worked hard.
It was one of the toughest challenges she’d faced so far, but she was never going to give up.
Eventually the inaugural season rolled around, and Stanton had secured a place in the team on the interchange bench.
Stanton experienced one of her biggest tests of character in her debut game.
Going in to win the ball for her first possession of her career, she was flattened.
“I was roadkill, Rocky (Richelle) Cranston pretty much steamrolled me,” Stanton recalls.
“I was turning to pick up the ball and she literally ran over me.”
“I ended up doing my AC joint but I didn’t know what had happened since I’d never been injured in my career.
“I thought I’d done my collarbone because there was a lot of pain.”
Stanton’s mind was racing in the immediate aftermath of the collision.
“I was so upset, I remember running off thinking that’s my season done,” she said.
“I was so lucky to get a game anyway and I’m going to be the only player that has no stats, ran on for six minutes and is now done for the season.
“I think the realisation on my face is not the fact I’m injured but more the fact I thought my career was over before it even really started.”
Stanton was assessed on the bench, with the medical staff ruling it was an AC joint injury and not the collarbone.
Stanton was given two options: ice up and sit out the rest of the game or get an injection and play through the pain.
“I said I want the injection, I want to play,” she said
“If this is going to be my only game I want to be remembered for something else and not the fact that I got run over.”
Brisbane went on to win the game against Melbourne who were going into the match and entire season as favourites.
Stanton had an injection each game after her debut.
It wasn’t until the Lions made the Grand Final that she stopped.
She was pain-free, but more importantly, within 12 months of her first ever game, Stanton was now at the pinnacle of her sport.
Stanton played her second year at the Lions with more freedom.
Something clicked, and she was now starting to live up to the potential her coaches saw in her.
Her skills had improved out of sight and she was making a conscious effort to improve her game wherever she could.
The Lions made the Grand Final again that year which they lost to the Western Bulldogs.
It was heart-wrenching for Stanton who had now experienced two Grand Final defeats in two years.
Something had to change, so she made the decision to move to North Melbourne to continue her football development.
“When I think about the move, what made me decide to move was the decision to keep on developing,” Stanton said.
“I think there’s a really big trend in my whole career is I want to get better and I want to be the best so I thought what better place to do that in than the heart of football.
“I ended up submersing myself in a place that is just fully AFL dominated.
“I wanted to see if it was something that was really viable for me to survive in and develop and get better.”
North presented her with the ability to progress her game further, not just physically, but mentally as well.
“I think I developed my game knowledge very well,” she said.
“I think my basic skills have developed over time but I think a lot of it was developed at North because that’s the game style they wanted to play.
“They wanted to hold possession of the footy so I had to become a good enough kick to be picked.
“I think North have definitely helped in that but it was more the game knowledge that I think North helped with.”
When Stanton decided to pack up and move down south, it was supposed to be long-term.
She had convinced herself she was in it for the long haul.
But family brought her back.
“It wasn’t a move that I made to end up here a year later to be honest,” Stanton said.
“It was a move that I made to be there for five years or so, that was the plan to be there for a long time.
“The decision to leave was really based around me and it was a really selfish decision that I wanted to get better.
“Before I left, my family was scattered everywhere but they all decided they wanted to move home when I was away.
“The SUNS ended up calling me and asked would you come back.”
She made the decision to return home, but was still conflicted about pulling the pin on her Melbourne dreams so quickly.
“Even now sitting here I feel a little bit like I failed because I’m not there anymore.
“I did sell myself that I was going there for a long time and trying to develop and make myself known in the Melbourne market.
“I feel like I took the easy way out but it’s not the easy way out, it’s more the fact that things in my life changed.
“When I left I was a kid and I think when I’ve come home I’m now an adult.”
While the focus of her development has always been her football, Stanton said she learnt more about herself as a person in those eight months away from home.
“The leaving was great for my footy but I think it was better for my development as a human.
“I had to open up, I had to make new friends, I had to be different.
“It shone a light on some of my flaws as a human that I had to adjust and develop and get better.
“It’s probably the biggest blessing in disguise that I did do something like that to make me a better person out of it.”
With three seasons of AFLW in the bank, Stanton has flagged leadership as a potential development area moving forward.
“From year one I never thought I’d ever be in a leadership group,” she said.
“I guess now that I’m a little bit more settled on the game and I feel like my skills are getting there, I’m slowly coming around to the concept of leadership as something that I really want to be a part of.
“I’d love to be a part of our leadership group but I’ve got to be the right person to be involved in it.”
Stanton was selected as co-captain for Game 2 of the QW Winter Series and is one of the more experienced players on the list with AFLW experience.
“If it works out that I can be involved somehow then that’s great, but I also don’t want to be bogged down by it either,” she said.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot of developing still to do as a player and a leader.
“In the long term I’d love to be a captain of the club but I’m not sure if that journey starts now or if that starts in six years.”
One thing’s for sure, regardless of official title or not, Stanton will be a leader through her actions in 2020 and continue to drive the professional standards of the club in the future.