Newcastle Jets winger Joe Champness is convinced he can make it big as a musician after making the bold call to put his career on hold in the A-League and sacrifice a possible Tokyo Olympics appearance to pursue his hip-hop ambitions.
An aspiring rapper who performs under the stage name JOWIC (pronounced Joey-Cee), Champness was given permission to skip the first month of Newcastle's pre-season to spend time in Los Angeles, where he recorded music with the Create Music Group and mixed it with some industry heavyweights.
The 22-year-old returned to Australia over the weekend but will now return to the United States for an extended period after reaching an agreement with the Jets over his future. Champness has signed a two-year contract extension but will spend at least the next six months overseas on what is essentially unpaid leave - meaning he will miss the start of the upcoming A-League season.
Regarded as one of the most promising young players in the competition, Champness' decision will also impact his international ambitions. He is a member of the Olyroos, Australia's under-23 national team who are due to play in a qualifying tournament for Tokyo 2020 early next year.
Champness is fully aware of what he is passing up and is prepared for the inevitable criticism and backlash that will come his way but believes he has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in front of him.
"I wouldn't be doing this if I wasn't convinced that there's something out there," Champness told the Herald. "I met with some really great people and I can't talk about it too much at this point ... there's risk involved, of course, but there's risk in everything.
"There's a lot of circumstances and factors that people aren't aware of as well. It'll most likely stay that way. All I can do is make the decision I feel is best.
"It's not a normal situation, that's for sure. I've got a lot of love for the Newcastle Jets and a lot of respect for everyone on that team - I'm contracted there for the next three years, so it's an honour to be given that sort of opportunity and trust from the club in that sense as well."
Hip-hop is not a mere side-project for Champness, who it's understood also turned down a loan move to newly-promoted English League Two side Salford City - owned by several former Manchester United legends, including David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs - to concentrate on music.
Champness is as serious about the craft of making hip-hop as he is about football, and the Jets are fully aware of that. If he wishes to return to the club at any stage in the near future, the new deal gives him scope to do so and Newcastle will happily accommodate him.
Asked for a highlight from his recent stint in the US, Champness said: "(There were) a lot of highlights, but the process above all is a highlight in itself. Being able to work with different minds and visionaries who can put work in the right hands is a major factor. Details are to come on how that looks exactly but take it from me, it's a good situation for me as an artist and my team as well."
Merrick, though disappointed to lose a game breaker, said he was understanding of the player's stance.
"I would hate to force a talented musician to, in any way, give up his dream of music," coach Ernie Merrick said. "I think he can do both but he feels he has to focus on one at the moment.
"As a coach I am pretty happy with the way we have dealt with the issue and not made a big thing of it. He has re-signed for another two years. Short-term, long-term I think it will work itself out."
Jets chief executive Lawrie McKinna concedes there is a chance Champness may never play football again.
"He might be in the US for six months, he might be there for a year, he might never come back to play football," McKinna said. "But we thought it was important for the Newcastle Jets to have him signed up, so if he does come back he comes back to Newcastle and not to another club.
"We did the right thing and let him go to the US for a month. People might say that backfired. If a player walks out on a club there is nothing we can do."
Champness' departure leaves the Jets with 19 senior players and three scholarship players on the roster.
"We are actively looking for a another player. It might not be a wide player but we will definitely bring in a player," McKinna said.