NEWCASTLE Jets winger James Virgili grew up in a football family.
As a junior he was coached by his father, former Broadmeadow Magic boss Robert Virgili, and he spent his afternoons in the backyard playing against older brother Luke in games that got "a bit serious".
"It was a good environment to learn my football in," Virgili said.
"I was never forced into it but I was encouraged to play and Dad always told me to go out and make a difference, not just make up the numbers."
After coming through the NSW Institute of Sport, he was signed by the Jets when he was a 15-year-old St Pius High School student, even though he technically wasn't old enough to run out for their youth side.
"I couldn't play youth at the time, because I was too young, but I could play for the first team but only when someone was injured."
Always humble, Virgili sacrificed partying with his schoolmates to give himself the best chance of making it as a footballer. His dedication paid off when he made his A-League debut in January 2009 aged 16 years and 108 days, briefly making him the competition's youngest-ever player.
He went on to represent Australia at under-17s and under-20s level and earn a trial with Scottish giants Celtic.
This month the 22-year-old was included in a Jets team that took on Italian champions Juventus in a trial at Kogarah, an experience he won't forget.
"To play against people that I've grown up watching on TV was unbelievable," he said.
"I was standing there next to Giorgio Chiellini and thought 'Wow, that's the guy that Luis Suarez bit at the World Cup'."
Away from football, James studies radiography part-time at the University of Newcastle and he will soon be juggling his first professional placement alongside his Jets duties.
He is confident about the club's chances this season and praised the culture that coach Phil Stubbins has brought to the team.
"It's been a long pre-season which has given us time to gel as a team and the discipline off the field has been great."
The Jets are taking part in a round-robin tournament against Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar in Townsville this week.