A KNEE reconstruction in December last year ruled Jake Lever out of football in 2014, making him one of the most interesting prospects in the draft mix.
Fortunately for the key defender, he had at least already achieved plenty as a bottom-aged player in 2013, when he played four games for Vic Metro (one as captain) and had a strong season with the Calder Cannons.
This season has been a different experience for him. Steadily he has got back to fitness, following his program tightly and recovering ahead of schedule.
He took up coaching roles with Vic Metro and the Cannons, and was there at every game and training session completing his rehabilitation on the side.
The 18-year-old is back at full fitness, and earlier this month tested at the NAB AFL Draft Combine, running 3.19 in the 20-metre sprint and 10:32 for the three-kilometre time trial.
He will start pre-season at an AFL club fit and hungry to get going.
The fact clubs have viewed Lever as one of the most impressive players this season – without suiting up for a game – says much about his character.
Lever is a strong, commanding leader who most likely would have captained the AIS-AFL Academy, Cannons and Vic Metro if not for the knee injury. He interviews well, understands his unique position, and clubs like him.
His footy matches up, too. At 193cm, some see him as the best tall defender available and he's a mobile, tough, courageous and strong option.
He enjoys the physical side of the game, and is combative in the air and on the ground. That might be his biggest strength: Lever is competitive and absolutely hates being beaten.
The fact he hasn't played since 2013 means clubs have to back what they saw that season. They would obviously have liked to have seen Lever progress this year, with the likelihood he would have had been given a shot in the midfield.
He's not super quick, but it would simply be his injury and absence that will have clubs wondering if there's some inherent risk in reading out Lever's name on the Gold Coast.
Lever is a bit taller than Hawk Ben Stratton, and likes to run the ball out of his defensive 50 in a similar manner.
When he's up and going, it's not unusual to see Lever run full pelt at a contest, take the spilled ball and then run off with it and kick long.
It certainly wouldn't surprise if he's a top-five selection. If he doesn't get taken then, there are a number of other clubs in the next 10 picks who really like him.
There aren't many clubs who wouldn't want to bring in someone like Lever. Despite his injury layoff, he will be raring to go by the start of pre-season and will step into a club comfortably. He's the type of person and player who shapes those around him.