THE SUBLIME kicking skills of Richmond defender Jayden Short have been 17 years in the making.

The sight of five-year-old Short and his father Greg kicking a football back and forth in the front garden of a house in the north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne was something their neighbours often saw. Short wasn’t a fan of video games and didn’t even really like being inside. If he wasn’t kicking a ball outside their Mill Park home, he was brandishing a cricket bat.

It’s this early devotion Short believes is responsible for the fact he’s ranked 30th in the competition and second at the Tigers for kicking efficiency, which translates to 75.3 per cent.

It’s also probably why one of his assistant coaches believes he has skills comparable to that of Brownlow medallist Jason Akermanis.

“Kicking is something you do every day, but I think it spurs back to when my dad had me in the front yard kicking left and right foot every day,” Short told this week.

“I’d do one left, one right, for hours on end until dinner was ready.

“It’s all I wanted to do.”

The former rookie is one of the Tigers’ most improved this season.

He’s played every game after a quiet performance in round 18 last year against Greater Western Sydney coincided with the return of fellow defender Bachar Houli from suspension.

He rode in the Grand Final parade as an emergency and watched the game from the stands, and then after recovering from a post-season shoulder reconstruction, set about making sure that doesn’t happen again if the Tigers repeat their 2017 heroics.

Since then, he’s found himself a home in the back six to the point where he’s been picked before premiership players Nathan Broad and now Brandon Ellis so far this season.

His enthusiasm and vibrancy only complements the penetrating kick that has made him second to only Dustin Martin for metres gained at Richmond in six rounds.

He’s also become a popular teammate in the space of three years.

“He brings a lot to the group apart from his amazing footy ability,” forwards coach Justin Leppitsch said.

“I don’t know a person who would say a bad word about him, to be perfectly honest.”

Short has won more of his own ball this season. His contested possession average has risen by three per game, and nearly 32 per cent of those have been won from a contest (compared to 18 per cent last year).

It was an area he knew he needed to improve in. In 2017, he won the fewest contested possessions of any backman to play at least 10 games.

“As a defender, I lock down on my man, but it’s also about getting the ball in my own hands and not relying on others to get it for me,” Short said.

“It’s something I had to work on, trying to find it and get it as much as I can.”

Short started at Richmond as a small forward, played in defence last year, and spent this pre-season with the midfielders.

But he loves the backline, and with his natural composure and sharp feet, it’s a role that clearly loves him.

“I just try to make the most of my skills. I just don’t want to kick the ball anywhere I don’t want it to go,” he said.

“I hate turning the ball over from the backline, it’s the last thing you want to do as a backman.”

Short finished high school and then worked as a carpenter for a year before he was rookied by the Tigers at the end of 2014. He believes he’d still be doing that – and eating sausage rolls for lunch as part of the “tradie diet” – had he not got his AFL chance.

His 38 games are a meagre sample compared to Akermanis’ 325, but Leppitsch can’t help but be reminded of his fellow premiership Lion when he watches Short play.

“It might be a bit of a stretch because he’s still got a long way to go, but he reminds me a little bit of him with the way he glides over the ground and can kick with his left and right foot,” Leppitsch said.

“He’s so clean at ground level, they’ve sort of got the same skill set. Now, they’re not the same players, but he has as similar speed traits off the mark and ability with the ball as Aker that I’ve seen.

“I know it’s a pretty big wrap, but he’s got those skills so hopefully he can turn into half as good a player as Aker was.”