Saad El-Hawli becomes first Bachar Houli Foundation academy graduate drafted to AFL

Saad El-Hawli has become the first Bachar Houli Foundation (BHF) academy graduate drafted to the AFL.

Selected by the Essendon Football Club with pick number 13 in the AFL Mid-Season Rookie draft, Saad El-Hawli has become the first Bachar Houli Foundation academy graduate to be drafted to the AFL.

Saad El-Hawli has become the first BHF academy graduate to make his way onto an AFL list after being selected by the Essendon Football Club with the 13th pick in the 2024 Mid-Season Rookie draft.

The 23-year-old is a BHF academy graduate who has been involved with the Foundation since the age of fourteen.

El-Hawli was most notably selected to participate in the BHF’s Elite Performance Academy in 2020.

The BHF’s Elite Performance Academy involves a 12-month program that focuses on nationally developing the twelve best participants as footballers and enhancing their sense of identity as young Australian Muslims.

The cornerstone of the academy is an eight-day international camp in the United Arab Emirates.

Saad El-Hawli in the 2020 Elite Performance Academy.

El-Hawli is a devout Muslim. He becomes the sixth to be listed at the top level of Australian Rules Football alongside Sedat Sir, Adem Yze, Bachar Houli, Ahmed Saad and currently, Adam Saad.

He also becomes the BHF’s inaugural draftee to come out of its academies, a momentous milestone for the Foundation.

BHF Founder Bachar Houli couldn’t be prouder of El-Hawli, taking to social media to congratulate the academy graduate.

“Massive congratulations, outstanding achievement the fact that you’ve been drafted to the Essendon Football Club – an amazing club to be involved in. I wish you all the very best…Alhamdulilah (praise be to God) that you’ve made it, and you can drive the next generation to believe that they can make it as well, even at the age of 23,” said Houli.

“I’m always here for support and the (Bachar Houli) Foundation is always there for support, whenever you need.”

Houli has spent abundant time with El-Hawli through the BHF’s academies in previous years.

Since being established in 2013, the BHF’s academies have provided high-performance training, mentoring and education for Islamic boys aged between 12 and 18 years old.

The impact of the Foundation’s academies has reached the VFL and Coates Talent League in previous years, however, no participant has leapt to the AFL until Essendon selected El-Hawli.

BHF National Programs Manager Ahmed Saad distinctly remembers El-Hawli coming through the Foundation’s academy.

“His growth over the years has been incredible…he came into our (Junior) academy as a fourteen-year-old just eager to grow as much as possible.”

“He was always a lot of fun to be around…(and) a really good kid with one of the best attitudes you’ll come across. He always aimed to get the best out of himself, and it’s a testament to his hard work that he’s made it to AFL level.”

El-Hawli is a versatile half-back and winger who can hit the scoreboard.

In eight games this season, the speedster has averaged 25.8 disposals, 6.5 marks and 3.4 tackles for the Northern Bullants in the Smithy’s VFL.

In an impressive feat, his numbers have improved almost two-fold from 2023.

Last season, El-Hawli averaged 13.7 disposals and kicked 11 goals from 14 outings, proving his versatility.

Rob Forster-Knight, National Recruiting Manager of the Essendon Football Club, stated that it’s “a great story for Saad.”

“We’ve tracked him over the last few years coming from the Western Jets and he’s just really grown year-on-year.”

El-Hawli was part of the Western Jets in 2019 as an explosive small forward, and predominately featured for the Altona Vikings in the Western Region Football League (WRFL) in the same position before his VFL years.

After booting 26 goals for the Vikings in the 2021 TIV Division 1 competition, he earned Team of the Year honours as a forward pocket, as well as being named Rookie of the Year.

Throughout his time at VFL-level, he transitioned to half-back seamlessly.

“He’s got speed, power, can mark over his head and he’s quite versatile as well. We think there’s a chance he might be able to put selection pressure on in the immediate future, but that depends on how well he adapts to our environment as well,” Forster-Knight said.



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