For 70 First Nations football fans, it’s the ultimate reward for effort — a chance to meet their heroes and do a lap of the Melbourne Cricket Ground in front of thousands of attendees.

It’s been the “carrot” promised to them for attending classes and reaching benchmarks at the Aboriginal AFL Academy in Adelaide.

Jackson Coaby is among the teenagers who arrived early to get on the team bus to Melbourne.

“We’re constantly reminded by our teachers, ‘keep doing your work and you can go to Melbourne’, and I guess that’s what’s built our excitement for this morning — I’m pretty keen to go,” Jackson said.

Jackson Coaby says the Aboriginal AFL Academy inspired him to one day work for a footy club.(ABC News)

The AFL program, which includes students from year 10, 11 and 12, has been running for a decade, firstly at the Port Adelaide Football Club and more recently at the Aboriginal-run Tjindu Foundation.

It involves weekly classes that blend football and school and contribute to their South Australian Certificate of Education.

For the past two years, both female and male students have gone to Melbourne to play a game, visit AFL clubs and meet fellow Indigenous players.

The students also get to take part in the Long Walk and watch the AFL’s marquee game Essendon versus Richmond.

Rene Ferguson is the captain of the girls’ team, she said it has been a bonding experience.

“That was the first trip that really brought us together so I’m hoping with the new kids coming that’ll do the same this year,” Rene said.

Rene Ferguson is excited about the trip to the Melbourne Cricket Ground.(Supplied: Julian Hatch)

Former North Melbourne and Port Adelaide player Lindsay Thomas is the head coach for both teams and loves watching the players develop as footballers and people.

He said they all know they need to live up to the standards they have agreed to when they apply to be part of the program.

That includes having an attendance rate of at least 80 per cent.

“We use sport as the carrot, so to speak, but it’s teaching them life skills away from the footy field,” Thomas said.

“Just to be able to see them grow as young people and young leaders in the community, it’s been amazing so far.

“To see their faces when we walked on the MCG was just priceless, some of them were that shocked about how big the MCG was and that’s what it’s about.”

Lindsay Thomas says teaching young people life skills has been fulfilling.(ABC West Coast SA: Emma Pedler)

Tjindu Foundation general manager Kellie Graves said around 200 students applied to be part of the program this year.

She said the program has grown significantly since the initial intake of around 30 boys. That number more than doubled when girls joined the program six years ago.

Ms Graves said students not only have to reach set attendance records.

“They have to complete all their work and adhere to all our values of brotherhood and sisterhood,” Ms Graves said.

“We’re all about at Tjindu providing opportunities that could potentially be life changing for these people,” she said.

Aboriginal AFL Academy is a football program for school-aged Aboriginal students.(Supplied: Julian Hatch)

Past graduates of the program include Izak Rankine, now at the Adelaide Crows, and Tyson Stengle, who plays for Geelong.

“It’s really lovely to see the success of our young people as they go on with their career post Tjindu,” Ms Graves said.

For Ms Graves, too, it is the joy on the kids faces that she remembers.

“It’s a really heart-warming, cup-filling experience.”

Kellie Graves says the program has grown from 30 participants, and now sees about 200 applicants a year.(Supplied: Julian Hatch)

Jackson said going to the AFL Academy each week means a lot.

“That’s probably actually one of the best parts, seeing all my brothers and sisters here each week, that’s really good for me,” Jackson said.

He is planning to be a doctor or physiotherapist, ideally at an AFL club.

“I would love to work at a big footy club, that would be pretty fun,” Jackson said.