You only need to scratch the surface to see the many overlaps between elite junior athlete Jack Peris and Ben Long.
Both Indigenous talents grew up together in Darwin, were boarders at Melbourne Grammar to pursue their sporting ambitions and hail from rich sporting bloodlines.
Peris’ mother, Nova Peris OAM OLY, became the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic Gold Medal. His late father, Daniel Batman, was an Olympic sprinter for Australia, while Geelong midfielder Brandan Parfitt is his second-cousin.
Long’s family pedigree speaks for itself.
Over the past three seasons, the two have also shared a connection to St Kilda, with Peris’ AFL journey progressing to the elite level as a recipient of the AMC Indigenous Scholarship Program and member of the club’s Next Generation Academy (NGA).
One day, they could be running out alongside each other in red, white and black.
“I’ve known Longy pretty much my whole life really,” Peris told saints.com.au.
“He’s helped me out a lot with life in general and footy and everything, he’s like a big brother of mine, really.
“My whole family grew up with his family basically, so I’ve known him from a very young age and have looked up to him as a massive mentor for a long time.”
Long has been an inspiration to the prospective Olympian and AFL footballer, with the emerging Saint now serving as mentor in an official capacity as part of the AMC Indigenous Scholarship.
“We’ve been doing online meetings and keeping in touch with everyone in the squad, so it’s been really good that I’m still involved pretty heavily with the program,” Peris said.
“I’ve been busy with the training days as well and they’ve sent me my full gym program. I’ve got a big set-up in the backyard in Darwin, so I’ve been keeping really good at that this year.
“We also do video analysis with all the boys about once a month, and sometimes we get the Saints on like Bradley Hill and Ben Long which is unreal.”
“It’s awesome, I can just text him or give him a call whenever.
“We can have a chat about anything, and now that he’s in career-best form at the top of his game it’s much easier having him at the Saints and he can give me advice about everything.”
That connection has become even more important after Peris moved back to his native Darwin in the wake of COVID-19.
For the 17-year-old, the pandemic has brought a potential bid at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the hopes of piecing together a consistent comeback season from injury to a halt.
A severe 13cm tear in his hamstring in 2019 put the record-holding athlete on ice for six months – another parallel with Long after his extensive foot injury in his debut year – before his sights shifted towards a promising 2020 campaign off the back of an injury-free lead-up to the new season.
Instead, his – and everyone else’s – aspirations were forced to take an unprecedented detour, with the 2018 NAIDOC Sportsperson of the Year fluttering between Victoria and his native Darwin before tighter restrictions were imposed.
Peris, a proud descendant of the Iwatja people of Western Arnhem Land, and the Yawuru and Gidja people of the West and East Kimberley, has embraced returning home, even in light of a dashed NAB League run for Sandringham Dragons and the frustrations of online learning.
“It has been very difficult, but I think everyone’s in the same boat really. I’ve just got to stay committed and get the work done,” Peris said.
“There’s the odd distraction and I can be a bit lazy rolling out of bed and into an online class, but I’m getting to spend more time with family.
“I’m just trying to keep fit and I’ll play a few games up here in Darwin for the U18 NT team, so I’m going to do a bit of training with them and the senior team.
“The past few months have really frustrating for some things, but I’m just trying to take the positives out of it.”
While the world has continued to adjust to the impacts of COVID-19, the 2021 Draft hopeful’s involvement with St Kilda has remained intact, thanks to the support of AMC.
The AMC Indigenous Scholarship has continued in 2020 despite the remarkable hardships, rolling over 2019 Scholarship holders to continue to support their life pathways.
Alongside his sporting ambitions, Peris hopes to study Marine Biology at university.
The amended program also sees participants gain access to St Kilda’s state-of-the-art development initiative Saints Edge – repurposed for online learning – plus cultural awareness training with Mentor Al Murray.
AMC Commercial Cleaning spokesperson, Sharmini Masilamani they were proud to continue their partnership with St Kilda and provide opportunities through the Indigenous Scholarship Program, even through COVID-19.
“We are immensely proud of Jack Peris and his progress," she said.
"Jack was one of the original recipients of the AMC indigenous scholarships. It is hugely rewarding to see him make the most of every opportunity that is placed in front of him.
"We are excited of the future that is ahead of Jack and we wish him every success in life.”