Jamal Fogarty is living out two dreams – playing in the NRL while making a real difference in the community.
A former youth worker in the Gold Coast Youth Justice Service, the Titans co-captain has a genuine passion for helping others and knows that even a simple conversation can have a profound impact.
"My goal is to go out and engage with people, to put a smile on their face for however long I'm with them," he told NRL.com.
"Because you don't know, they might have issues or they might be struggling with [stuff] at home. But if I can just make them forget about that and smile, then I'm playing a good part there."
The proud Mununjali man has been nominated by his club for the NRL's Ken Stephen Medal, proudly brought to you by Your Local Club.
Fogarty has tallied the most community hours at the Titans, dedicating himself to a host of Indigenous initiatives, running football training for disabled young adults through the Leaguability program, visiting schools and giving back to his home of Beaudesert.
"I've dreamt of being an NRL player since I was four – to actually be able to do that in my local community is the best job ever," he said.
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"With COVID, we haven't been able to do a whole lot of community stuff, but when we can, I grab it with both hands and tell Renee [Cohen, Titans community manager] and the guys at the club, 'If you're doing anything in the community, let me know, I'm happy to come along'.
"That takes me away from being a football player – I'm just someone else in the community. When I go to a school, if I'm mixing it up with Year Four kids, my mindset is, 'I'm in Year Four, I get to muck around'. We might do paintings or kick the soccer ball or joke around.
"That's just me still being a little kid, which is the part that I love. I just get to talk to those kids like they're my friends … It keeps me balanced between rugby league and the real world, I guess."
The Indigenous All Stars halfback particularly enjoys his time with intellectually and physically disabled rugby league players, who he warmly described as "the educators ... I'm just there to listen".
"They face challenges every second of the day, but they don't understand how resilient they are. They get up when the sun comes up and then they fight the day like it's normal," Fogarty said.
"They don't dwell on anything; they just get on with it. And us as footballers, we probably dwell on the things that we don't do well because it's scrutinised in the media. So I think what I get out of working with those teams at the club is probably the best."
Fogarty still remembers when two Brisbane Broncos players visited his high school and "pretty much made my whole life turn around".
"That's probably a real good reason why I want to do that to other guys, no matter where I go within the community," he said.
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However, the 27-year-old can trace his desire to effect positive change back to his days as a primary school student at the JJ Club (short for Jabu Jabuny, meaning boy and girl in the local Indigenous language) – a homework program run by his Aunties and Uncles.
"I just wanted to be like them because they put a smile on our face," he said. And that led him to a career in youth justice.
"It's easy for everyone to sit back, like, 'There are those naughty kids, they're stealing cars or they're breaking into houses again'. But no one in the public is willing to put their hand out to help them out.
"I wanted to be that difference or try to be that difference. Those kids I worked with in youth justice, they're just low on confidence. They don't have any good role models to steer them in the right direction."
In Fogarty, they have someone to look up to.
The playmaker is hopeful of winning the fan vote, which will decide one of four finalists for the Ken Stephen Medal, so he can claim the $3500 prize on offer for his junior club, the Beaudesert Kingfishers.
"We're a small community and we sort of struggle financially, but if they can get that then that'll be awesome," he said.
"I've done a program out home at the moment ... I've already planned on getting a little footy pack for a couple of teams together to put my money back into the community."