Dogged determination and gratitude has been at the cornerstone of South Warrnambool AFL draft prospect George Stevens' road to recovery from an ACL injury.
Ticking off little boxes along the way and finding ways to stay connected and passionate have been vital this year as he navigates a challenging journey.
But the 17-year-old Emmanuel College student - who has just finished his year 11 exams - can see the light at the end of the tunnel and is eyeing a return to the field in round one, 2023.
The powerfully built Greater Western Victorian Rebel is clearly in the sights of AFL recruiters next year after being named in the 2023 intake of the AFL Academy on Friday, to be coached by former Collingwood utility Tarkyn Lockyer.
He told The Standard it was a humbling honour to be named in the 30-player squad and was ecstatic to be given an opportunity.
"When I got the phone call I had to keep it a bit quiet for a week, I was absolutely stoked," he said.
"It's an absolute honour first of all. It's funny, it was a bit of a full-circle moment. I was in my physio room when I heard the news of my ACL about a year ago at that stage and I found out a week ago (about the AFL Academy).
"It was a full-circle moment that's for sure to be named. I'm honoured to be named in the academy and I'm super pumped to work with the boys and learn about it all next year.
"I feel like the faith Tarkyn and the AFL Academy has put in me to do this makes me want to pay them back considering I didn't get to show them anything with my footy last year.
"I'm hungry and more just excited. It's what I love doing and hopefully (it) all goes to plan for me. Through my injury I've learnt to celebrate the little things in life and in footy, and there's still so much work to do but I'm so honoured to be in this program."
After sitting out a year of football to focus on his long-term recovery, including his bottom-age season with the Rebels and instead honing his coaching craft under South Warrnambool coach Mat Battistello at Hampden league level, the midfielder said there was an itch to return to the field.
"I had a positive chat with my physio during the week, I did my first speed session (on Thursday night)," he said.
"I've been running now for about three or so months so to tick that off and get more footy-specific running is great and now I'm looking at pre-season stuff and hopefully build to some trial matches in February.
"If all goes to plan and nothing changes, I'll be hoping to be raring to go in round one."
He said he remained forever grateful for the Roosters for their unwavering support in 2022.
"When it all happened at the start of last year I sat down with Mat Battistello to do some coaching and we wanted to make sure it wasn't a wasted year," he said.
"He really stuck to that this year - South Warrnambool's my second home, I live basically a kick away from it. The culture at the footy and netball club is amazing to be around. I'd be lost without them through my rehab process to be honest.
"I'll forever be grateful, they've invested so much time into me, and I'm thankful for they continue to do for me."
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