Kelsey Rypstra will run out for Footscray for the first time after being taken in the mid-season draft. Picture: Western Bulldogs FC

HE WAS told he would never play again. But Kelsey Rypstra chose not to listen. 

Despite rupturing three ligaments in his knee – the anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament – plus fracturing his leg and suffering nerve damage, this wasn't going to be the end. 

The injury was so graphic, so horrific, that the SANFL under-18 game between North Adelaide and Glenelg was called off. It took an ambulance more than 90 minutes to get to Prospect Oval. By that point, the small forward had inhaled two green whistles and was reaching for a third. 

That was just under two years ago. 

Last Wednesday night, the Western Bulldogs used their pick in the AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft to select the 172cm pressure forward at pick No.8, completing a stunning rise to the top that wasn't supposed to happen. At least, that's what the experts told him.

"One of the first things the surgeon said to me was 'you may not play again'. That was a real possibility," Rypstra told on Thursday ahead of his first appearance for Footscray in the VFL on Friday afternoon. 

"It all depended on how the rehab went and it went really well. I had great specialists and physio team around me, helping me get back to footy. It has been all good since getting back on the track and back playing."


The 20-year-old never got overwhelmed by the colossal task of mending his knee. He knew the odds were stacked against him and some recruiters had put a line through his name, but he had the right people around him. One session at a time and he eventually got there in March, returning after more than 18 months out. 

Rypstra started the season in North Adelaide's reserves but was quickly picked in the league team after just two games. Coach Jacob Surjan rated him highly and it took 120 minutes against Sturt in round three for Rypstra to put his name back on the radar of recruiters. Remember me?

"I've just had a strong mindset; I've always been like that," Rypstra said. 

"It [the injury] is what it is. If you can get back to play footy that was just a bonus. I just had that mindset of get to work, get the rehab done, give yourself the best opportunity to get back to what you love, which is footy."

By the time Western Bulldogs list boss Sam Power and national recruiting manager Dom Milesi logged into Zoom to interview Rypstra the day before the mid-season draft, two other clubs had reached out. 

Kelsey Rypstra evades the tackle during the 2022 U18 National Championship match between SA v Vic Country at Thebarton Oval. Picture: Getty Images

Brisbane and Essendon both expressed interest, but the medical history was a red flag. The Lions detected an undervalued asset on the way back, but with five players currently sidelined with ACL injuries, they chose a safer option in Geelong Falcons forward Will McLachlan instead. 

Just like Essendon recruit Saad El-Hawli at Preston City Oval last Wednesday night, Rypstra was out on the training track while the draft was unfolding. The Bulldogs hadn't given him a guarantee, but he was hoping this would be the last time he trained at Prospect for the foreseeable future. 

"I was out training and I knew something was maybe going to happen," he said. "I didn't have a full clue if I was going to get picked up or not. I was on the training track and gave my phone to one of the staff at North Adelaide. We got pulled off for a drinks break and as we were going to back out he announced it. It was excellent."

When the Bulldogs were doing their due diligence, they were blown away by Rypstra's GPS data. His work rate without the ball is in the mould of Hawthorn half-forward Dylan Moore. They were looking for someone with that aerobic ability, following the recent medical retirement of Aiden O'Driscoll

The ability to sign Rypstra on an initial six-month contract mitigated the risk of recruiting someone who had suffered such a severe injury. That is the beauty of the mid-season draft. A point his manager, Tom McConville from Mac's Sports Promotions, had kept reminding clubs to keep in mind. 

Rypstra models his game on Sydney's Tom Papley and Melbourne's Kysaiah Pickett and like West Coast recruit Jack Hutchinson, has as much upside as anyone taken in the Mid-Season Rookie Draft.

"I'm more of a high half-forward to use my legs to get up and down the field. I try and use my speed and craft around goals as well," he said.

"I've really enjoyed it this year. After having so much time off, to get back into the swing of footy has been great. I was very excited to get back into it and show what I can do again."

Rypstra hadn't spent much time in Victoria before he landed last Sunday and doesn't know too many people in this town, aside from former Roosters teammates Harvey Harrison and Isaac Keeler. He has moved in with James Harmes and his wife Corey, and is now ready to make the most of a chance that looked like it had been taken away from him when his knee shattered nearly two years ago. 

"I feel like I can get a gig. I need to show what I can do at VFL level and hopefully that can lead onto AFL level," he said.

"I think the adversity has really prepared me mentally and physically for hopefully a long career in the AFL."

Rypstra isn't supposed to be here. Now he is going to show why he is here.