Yet to be beat, Stratton feels the impact of friendship

A dull thud hums through Waverly Park’s commercial and administrative offices as bass swells up from the gym a floor below; an average occurrence for a Tuesday morning.

Muffled yet clear enough to make out, tech and house beats reign before the selection slides through to hip-hop with the likes of Jay Z and Kanye, as not a single Hawthorn staff member batts an eyelid working at their desks at the sudden rise in ambiance. If anything the rumblings have buoyed the mood.

Below, the club’s players go through their weights programs and training exercises, feeding off the pumping array of tunes – something that, since its regular introduction into the Hawks’ change rooms in 2010, they’ve found themselves dependent on, both pre-game and during their week at the club.

It may come as no surprise then that the man behind the barrage of beats, Ben Stratton, could easily have been lost to the ‘party boy’ ways of his late teens and missed out on his AFL journey altogether.

A self-described laid-back guy, Stratton slinks back against the wall, sitting on a bench in the Hawthorn gym as he reflects on his six seasons so far at the highest level that have spurned a smidge over 100 games.

For someone who has managed to squeeze a laugh into almost every question so far, Stratton’s demeanour shifts as he recalls his days at East Perth – the WAFL club he spent two seasons playing for from the age of 18, before being plucked by the Hawks.

“I had some mates in Perth that sort of helped me pursue AFL when I first moved up to Perth.”

“I was just partying and I was a bit loose around the edges,” he said, breaking his gaze across the old VFL Park oval, a distinctive toothy smile emerging as he fondly recounts the impact of friendships.

“They were a couple of years older and a few of them had gone down my path… and just didn’t make it because, they definitely had the talent and stuff but, a few of them were just a bit loose.”

“I s’pose that they just saw that I had that ability but I just needed to pull my head in.

“They definitely helped me do that and they were there the whole way with me.”

But growing up on his family’s coastal farm in Yallingup, just north of Western Australia’s Margaret River, Stratton never dreamt of an AFL career.

“It kind of just happened, it wasn’t a dream early on,” he says, incredibly nonchalant and almost dismissive of the fact he’s made it as far as he has today.

“I was playing a lot of other sports as well like surfing and a bit of everything – tried a bit of softball, baseball.

“It was only towards my East Perth days where a few clubs started talking to me and I thought I may as well give this a crack,” he says, smirking as he tries to hide a nervous laugh.

Stratton very much sees his upbringing as having shaping his relaxed, care-free demeanour, crediting both the outdoor lifestyle he grew up living and the freedom afforded to him by his parents.

“We weren’t confined to a living room, we were always out there, me and my sister, and always riding motor bikes, helping Dad out, surfing.

“Mum would drop me down the beach, and we’d be there for two or three hours and she’d pick us up when we were ready, so they were both pretty lenient on what we did and I’ve sort of taken that relaxed attitude into my footy and a bit of a care free attitude.

Drafted at Pick 46 in the 2009 National Draft, Stratton burst on to the scene the following year, debuting against the Western Bulldogs in Round 3 before finishing the season amongst the favourites for the Rising Star Award (Dan Hannebury ended up the winner).

Stratton is politely, if not ignorantly, modest when he portrays himself simply as ‘relaxed’ on the football field.

Described by the man in charge of Hawthorn’s defence, Adem Yze, as one of the best preseason trainers he’s seen, Stratton is much more than ‘care free’.

“(He’s) a very relaxed person off the field but what we love about him is his courage and attack on the ball,” Yze said.

“The way he performs under pressure…is elite. I think it’s because of his no fuss nature that the pressure doesn’t seem to get to him.”

Already as glowing an endorsement as any, Yze also points to Stratton’s leadership and courage as two areas the defender has matured on field.

But it’s outside of football that the boy from Yallingup has grown equally as much.

Having tried “a bit of everything” including a business degree at university, Stratton is about to begin a graphic design course, while also currently taking classical guitar and Spanish lessons.

“I’m interested in graphic design and the sort of fashion side of things so I’ll give that a crack and see where it goes and maybe post-footy I’d go down that path definitely.”

His career as a DJ however hasn’t extended outside of the football club since he took the responsibility late into his debut season.

“The game day mix I’ve been doing since the end of 2010, so that’s been sort of a big part of what I do.”

“Most times I have my music in the gym. Whether the boys like it or not is a different story,” his laughter emphasising the mateship shared with his teammates.

And while it might have been the guidance and friendship of wiser heads that set Ben Stratton on this path, it’s been learning to move to his own beat that has brought him this far.

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