THE next time you roar "ball!" at the footy there's a chance the man answering your pleas for a free kick will be Brendan Hosking.
The 22-year-old former Essendon District Football League junior and umpire is on the verge of his AFL debut after earning a call-up to the national panel of AFL umpires.
Hosking sat on the boundary for his third AFL game as an emergency umpire at the North Melbourne v-GWS Giants match in Tasmania on Sunday.
After officiating in last year's VFL grand final and a number of NAB Cup matches during the AFL pre-season, Hosking is eagerly anticipating his first assignment to be one of the three field umpires in a home and away game.
Hosking's fitness and running ability has put him on the fast track to taking control of AFL games. After three years in the VFL, his impressive
training and 5000m times caught the eye of AFL umpires director Jeff Gieschen.
The call-up to the highest level marks a steady rise for Hosking from boundary umpire in the EDFL in 2003, to field umpire in 2005, to the VFL development squad in 2009.
Hosking started out as a footballer in under-10s at Taylors Lakes, playing and umpiring in tandem until he finished his under-16s top-age year at Keilor.
"I was a bit smaller than other guys and getting knocked around in under-16s," Hosking said. "I decided to concentrate on my umpiring rather than keep playing (under-18s) footy and get knocked out of every game.
"I love the game and miss playing it from time to time ... to still be a part of the game is really good and the highest level, it's unreal."
Hosking won the 2008 golden whistle in the EDFL before being invited to the VFL development squad, going on to officiate a number of senior games through the 2009-11 seasons.
His first televised VFL game was a big landmark in realising what it would take to cut it at a higher level.
"I remember umpiring really poorly in my third senior VFL game.
"It was a TV game and it was a big eye opener that I had to step it up and be the best I can.
"I was still quite young and lacked a bit of confidence, but due to the coaching I got through the VFL with Kevin Mitchell and Adam Davis. Those two guys helped me with a lot of things."
A solid 2011 season with the whistle snowballed into a strong finals series showing for Hosking, almost catching him by surprise that he was in charge of the grand final. After running the 5000m time trial in 17:13, well inside the AFL umpire benchmark of 18:45, the ambition of joining AFL ranks became a reality.
Hosking got his first crack at AFL level in the NAB Cup tri-series between Geelong, St Kilda and Sydney and was also in charge of North Melbourne's match against the Western Bulldogs.
"It was an absolute thrill to receive the call from Jeff (Gieschen) and Rowan (Sawers).
"(AFL) players are great players, but nothing changes; you just have to umpire as you see it."
Running and positioning remain the two big focuses for AFL umpires' training, while Hosking is optimistic about his ability to handle the mental side of things.
"You have to be tough-skinned. My family and friends have been very supportive but after every decision, regardless of whether I'm umpiring or not, they're coming to me for an explanation.
"In the two years I did on the VFL senior list I'd go to AFL games and observe umpires, because they're miked up you can listen in, be able to look at the way they work together and communicate."
Hosking works as a strength and conditioning coach in Cairnlea fitness club Run With Me.
He will wear the number 16 shirt this season, vacated by Jeff Dalgleish, who has taken the number seven that formerly belonged to umpiring games record holder Hayden Kennedy.
Mathew Tomkins joins Hosking as a former EDFL umpire in the AFL this season. He was called up to the national boundary umpire pool, and was one of the four officiating in the round one match between North Melbourne and Essendon.
Other EDFL umpiring graduates heading to VFL level this season are trio Tom Christie, Adam Havelburg and James Davey.