IN JUST 10 years since graduating from high school, Brisbane co-captain Harris Andrews has seen Australian Rules come a long way in his hometown.

When he finished at inner northside Padua College in 2014, rugby was the predominant sport at that school, with the 18-a-side code "a filler" between seasons.

It was almost an afterthought in The Associated Independent Colleges (AIC) competition that he competed in.

"You'd play on a Wednesday afternoon, play three games and that would be the season," Andrews told

"You wouldn't even play every team in the AIC.

"It was an opportunity for the rugby boys to build on a bit of fitness, go out and hit some bodies. They'd go and be physical and want to crash and bash and had no idea how to play.

"I remember us turning up on the bus and the coach scrambling to try and talk about Australian Rules and different strategies."

Five years later, the sport was a fully-fledged eight-week option in term one and has never looked back.

The Andrews Cameron Cup is now played annually between Padua and Marist College Ashgrove, where Charlie Cameron boarded during his time at the school.

In a city entrenched with rugby league and a private school system dominated by rugby union, this cannot be under-estimated.

A legitimate competition in the AIC system was a big breakthrough and coincided nicely with the Brisbane Lions' rise up the AFL ladder.

In 2023, Andrews and Cameron attended the match named in their honour, along with hundreds of kids from each school.

"To see that development and growth has been awesome," Andrews said.

"I've had minor involvement with Padua's AFL team.

"They came out to Brighton Homes Arena (Brisbane's training base) during the pre-season with the First 18 and had a development camp.

"They came out here and we sat in the auditorium, and we talked about what they wanted to build, what their trademark was going to be, what structures they had.

"The evolution is crazy.

"I would have loved that environment at the time, but to see that growth correlate with Queensland footy improving and the overall interest is great."

 Growing up

After being born in Melbourne and moving to Brisbane at the age of four, Andrews grew up a little different to his school mates.

His father Wayne was a huge Essendon fan, and by extension, so was Harris.

He got his first taste of Australian Rules as a six-year-old when he wandered down to nearby Aspley Football Club and filled in for his cousin's under-eight team.

Andrews would spend the next dozen years of his life at the Hornets, laying the foundation to become one of the dominant key defenders in the game's elite competition.

It wasn't the linear progression you might associate with such a career, though.

Attending Aspley State School, then Padua, Andrews tried his hand at everything.

It was rugby league and soccer at primary school, then rugby union, volleyball, basketball, cricket and swimming at high school.

"But footy was the constant," he said.

"I used to cop a little bit of banter because it wasn't quite as established up here.

"My mates would play rugby league at Brothers in Stafford, right near where I went to school at Padua. I enjoyed watching them play, but never had any interest in playing myself."

Andrews said he quickly learned whether it was 13-a-side league or 15-a-side union, where he played in Padua's under-13, 14 and 15B teams, it just wasn't for him.

"I was dreadful at it," Andrews chuckled.

"I couldn't tackle and had no idea how to play. I reckon I played three seasons of rugby in high school and by the third season I still didn't know the rules of what you could do around the ruck.

"I played in the backs, out on the wing and in the centres, which is hard to believe considering I lack so much speed.

"I just didn't know how to play the game to be honest.

"Dad tells the story of me being on the wing and being quite disconnected from the rest of the game. I remember being told to hold my width and then "get involved, mate" but I wasn't really sure what I was doing out there.

"I enjoyed it, it was fun playing with my schoolmates, but I just had no clue what I was doing."

For those years he'd play rugby for the school on Saturday and Australian Rules for Aspley on Sunday. A big San Antonio Spurs fan, he'd follow up with club basketball later that afternoon.

"Being from Queensland you wanted to try your hand at all different sports and fortunately Aussie Rules was the one that stuck.

"Having dad there supporting me and having my younger brother (Alex) there at the Hornets as well, we enjoyed getting along to the footy club and spending the whole weekend there, watching all the teams play."

By the age of 16, Andrews hadn't made a state team in his preferred sport, but things were about to change.

Hello, Lions

Moving out of junior footy, Andrews played for Aspley's Colts team in the NEAFL under-18 competition as a 17-year-old.

This is when Brisbane first identified him.

Luke Curran, who ran the Lions Academy at the time, said "this kid had been kicking a few goals and no one knew much about him".

"I went to a game in late July before the finals and there was a (senior) NEAFL game afterwards. He was starting in the goalsquare, this tall, gangly, lanky kid.

"He'd lead out and mark everything and go back and kick goal after goal. He really caught my attention as soon as I laid eyes on him.

"Just his hands, his marking above his head, on the lead, his was marking everything. Within a half of footy I thought: "this kid's got it".

At the end of that year – in which he kicked 80 goals from 17 games - heading into his 2014 draft year, the Lions put the northsider into their Academy.

He thrived, juggling school, club and Academy commitments, forcing his way into the Queensland team to play in the TAC Cup and under-18 national championships.

There was a gentle tug-of-war between school and club. Private schools preferred their students to compete in sport on Saturday mornings, which clashed with Andrews' Colts commitments. Not to mention training during the week.

However, Curran said all parties came to an agreement that allowed enough flexibility for Andrews, and others that followed him, to flourish.

"When speaking to his mum the first summer we had him, she told us Harris was just an average size kid at 15-16, that he hadn't taken footy 'that' seriously, and in his words, he was an average player, but in his 16th year he started growing.

"His first summer with us was a hard slog, with lots of running and fitness.

"He was one of the better talls at running, would really push himself to keep up with the mids and you could tell he wouldn't leave any stone unturned.

"He'd ask questions and seek feedback … he'd come in and do anything to become a better footballer."

Curran says he, along with Scott Borlase, who was part of Brisbane's Academy coaching structure and is now a development coach, thought Andrews would initially get overlooked in the draft and come back as a developing tall in his 19th year.

But one TAC Cup game, against the Geelong Falcons, changed that, when the tall forward was shifted into defence.

"He started taking a few grabs and that’s when other clubs took a bit of notice," Curran recalled.

"It can be one game, a positional change or they have a good day and that can end up changing a player's path."

North Melbourne bid on Andrews during the second round of the 2014 AFL Draft, and the Lions had no hesitation in matching it with their next available pick, No.61.

He debuted in round three the following season, won a Rising Star nomination later that year, and has gone on to become a club captain, two-time All-Australian and Merrett-Murray Medal winner in 2023.

"I think it’s a good story for any kid out there that you don’t have to be making the state under-12 teams, especially talls and especially in Queensland, to go on and have a career at the top level," Curran said.

"Their playing history is different to kids playing club footy as six-year-olds in Victoria. Sometimes kids up here find a different way.

"As someone looking for talent, you've got to keep an open mind and make sure you don't overlook players just because they haven't made rep teams at a young age.

"Harris is a great story for everyone up here."