EARLIER this year, it seemed Noah Answerth was almost certain to be drafted. The rebounding half-back had a competitive streak, serious speed and was set for a big season.
Instead, he was forced to wear a back brace for 13 weeks.
The incident happened in Answerth's second TAC Cup game this year, when his Oakleigh Chargers faced Eastern Ranges in early April.
Answerth flew for a mark and when he went to ground, someone landed on him and his body was compressed at an odd angle.
He suffered a fracture to his L1 vertebra, which is located about three-quarters down the spine.
The freak injury happened in a very similar manner to retired NFL player and former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo last year.
The brace was restrictive to say the least – Answerth was forced to learn how to pick objects off the ground by bending down on his knees first.
It was six weeks before he could take the brace off to go for a swim or ride on an exercise bike. Very light training was all that was allowed.
He only began running in mid-August.
To say the situation wasn't ideal would be an understatement, but the Chargers' vice-captain was philosophical about the challenge.
"I figured I couldn't do much about it, so I just had to cop it and try to get back as quickly as possible within reason," Answerth told AFL.com.au.
"That was my goal, to get back and play a game by the end of the year, and was pretty happy to get that one done in the Young Guns game."
That match was for draft hopefuls and took place a day before the Chargers' preliminary final. They lost, but Answerth wanted to play in the decider had his side advanced.
He has been fully fit for about two months and does not have any concerns about suffering a repeat of his back injury, considering he is highly unlikely to replicate the unusual manner that he was hurt. Answerth joined the rest of his Oakleigh teammates for the start of pre-season last Wednesday.
Despite having spoken to a handful of clubs and being in the mix to be picked up, the defender is not overly confident about being drafted. He already has plans to return to Oakleigh in 2018 as an over-age player to again push for a chance at the elite level.
It is a similar route to that taken by his elder brother Kade, who won consecutive best and fairests at the Chargers in 2014-15 and was Sandringham's club champion in the VFL this year.
"I'm probably looking at going back as a 19-year-old, really," Answerth said.
"That's my mindset at the moment and I'm looking forward to it, because I saw Kade do the same thing.
"I've got a few mates there now and it would be great to go back and play with Oakleigh again and hopefully play finals."