FLYNN Perez was happier than most of his fellow prospects to be invited to the NAB AFL Draft Combine. Having missed all of his draft season with a knee injury, the Bendigo Pioneers teenager has learned to take little for granted.
Perez shapes as one of the mysteries heading into next month's draft. He has talent, which he showed at under-18 level last year, enough to be selected in the NAB All Stars under-17s game on Grand Final morning last season.
He can kick (on both feet), has a turn of speed, is versatile and was shaping as an exciting player in this year's draft class. He still has all that, but hasn't been able to show any of it through 2019 after requiring a knee reconstruction in December last season.
It happened at Essendon, when the attacking half-back was training with Vic Country on a pre-season camp. Former Fremantle and Gold Coast midfielder Michael Barlow headed towards Perez, and as the youngster tried to dodge the assistant coach, his left knee buckled.
"I went to try to step him, and he corralled me. He didn't have any impact on what happened, my knee just went," Perez told AFL.com.au at the Draft Combine this week.
"I didn't actually believe that I could've done my knee. But they did all the tests and two days later I got the scans and the news that I needed a reconstruction. I was beside myself.
"I thought that was it for my draft chances, and immediately thought the worst. But after the initial shock I got in and had surgery and got it done straight away.
"It was a pretty stressful time and although everyone was telling me to stay positive, the reality is I was a 17-year-old who only wanted to be drafted and all I was doing was stressing about the injury stopping that. Once I stopped having a sook I was a lot better for it, and I've grown as a person."
More than nine months on from his surgery, Perez is feeling a lot better about his chances. Across the year the 187cm hopeful had 13 clubs interview him, and then the invitation to attend the Combine arrived, a reminder that while he has been out of sight, he has not been out of recruiters' minds.
This week, as clubs meet with players at Margaret Court Arena before testing on Thursday and Friday, Perez has had nine interviews booked in.
He said it had boosted his hopes of being selected in November, despite his inability to take the field this year.
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"When it happened I'm not going to lie, I thought it was pretty unlikely but then as the year went on I thought OK, it's not over yet'. I don't have any guarantees but I had to keep working and give myself the best possible chance," he said.
"You get heaps of people telling you you're still a chance, and then some who say you're not. But to get to the national combine and for clubs to come to your house, it makes it feel like it's a reality that it's a chance. So I've just honed in on my rehab and will come back a better player."
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Perez had a high level soccer background, having previously captained Victoria at junior level, before he made football his priority.
That's been front of mind as he's sat on the sidelines this year, watching on as Bendigo lost several tight games and wishing he could have made a difference, and also being a spectator for Vic Country's strong under-18 carnival.
Now back into training (apart from contact drills), Perez hopes the last stage of his recovery is at an AFL club.
"It'd be huge. I'd be absolutely rapt. It'd just show you should just never, ever give up. Even with adversity and setbacks you can still get through things. If my name was to get called out I'd be ecstatic," he said.