Flynn Perez had every reason to feel frustrated.
A training mishap in December last year saw him rupture his ACL and the resulting knee reconstruction forced him out of football for all of 2019.
No NAB League with the Bendigo Pioneers. No national under-18 championships with Victoria Country. No school footy with his best mates at Catherine McAuley College.
It's a tough pill to swallow when you've just spent 12 months in the AFL Academy and you're touted as a potential draftee at the end of 2019.
Perez admits he initially feared his draft hopes were doomed, but looking back now he knows he's lucky that there was a silver lining to the dark cloud that was his knee injury.
The 18-year-old is physically stronger than he's ever been and mentally tougher for getting through the adversity of 12 months of rehab.
"It's been hard, but I'm better for it,'' he said days out from the AFL National Draft.
His family, friends and Pioneers team-mates and coaches were there to support him through the ups and downs, while out of the blue he received help from an experienced mentor.
Carlton defender Sam Docherty, who has undergone two knee reconstructions, invited Perez to join him at Carlton to talk knees and footy.
"I went to Carlton and had a chat with Sam about the injury and two weeks later he got in contact to see if I wanted to go into the club and do rehab with him,'' Perez said.
"I spent a day at Carlton training with him. He's been through two knee recos, so it was good to bounce ideas off him and see what he does.
"Sam has kept in touch by sending me a few text messages to see how my rehab is going. He's been great for me."
The smooth moving, skillful half-back/wingman also had Collingwood 2010 premiership player Leigh Brown looking out for him.
The Victoria Country under-18 coach invited Perez to be part of the squad for the 2018 national championships.
"The Vic Country program wrapped their arms around me as soon as I got injured,'' Perez said.
"They kept me involved with the program. I went to all the games and all the training camps... I was still part of it, but couldn't get out on the park.
"It was good of them to do that because it kept me involved and gave me the drive to keep doing the rehab."
Perez juggled his rehab program with Year 12 studies at CMC.
"I got through school ok. Exams were a bit tough at the end there..it was hard to keep motivated,'' Perez admitted.
"I'm glad school is all over now."
Most of his school mates are this week doing what the majority of school leavers do at this time of year - partying.
Perez bypassed the opportunity to head north with his school mates.
He'll spend a "few quiet days" at a Victorian beach with friends before turning his attention to the AFL Draft.
It's unlikely he'll be selected in Wednesday's night first round.
His name is expected to be called in the second or third rounds on Thursday night.
Perez has spoken with several clubs in recent weeks, but he knows there's no guarantees come draft night.
"It's been pretty full-on,'' he said.
"We've had interviews this week and at the draft combine it was pretty flat out.
"It's been a good experience to go through all the interviews with the clubs."
Interstate clubs are among those showing interest in the Sandhurst Dragons product.
Perez is more than comfortable about moving to the other side of the country if it means getting a crack at AFL level.
"I'm not sure whether Mum and Dad care too much about it, but I don't mind at all...I'm pretty keen to move away.
"If I was to be picked up by an AFL club I'd have to move to Melbourne at the very least.
"If I get an opportunity I'll be grateful and go wherever I need to go."
The dream of playing in the AFL is what swung Perez to football from soccer a few years ago.
Perez was a state representative in soccer as a junior and watched on this year as four of his former team-mates progressed to the international stage.
"Birkan Kirdar and Luke Duzel were just over at the under-17 World Cup playing for Australia and it's great to see them going well,'' he said.
"Gianluca Iannucci and (Bendigo's) Mitch Graham just played for the Young Socceroos...it's so good to see them doing well and I try to keep in contact with them when I can."
Graham and Iannucci have been signed by A-League club Melbourne City. Perez, a keen Liverpool supporter, was on track to follow the same path before turning all his sporting attention to footy.
"I got to an age where I had to put everything into one,'' he said.
"I really enjoy footy and that's probably the reason I picked it over soccer. I'm glad I picked footy because I think I'm in an okay sort of situation.
"I still follow soccer and love the game, but footy was the right choice for me. I have no regrets."
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