THE SMOOTH way Will Day's slotted into AFL football belies his rocky road to this point.
Watching the fresh-faced, long-limbed Hawk break into Alastair Clarkson's side and excel in his debut year – a notoriously difficult task – would suggest he's always been a can't-miss prospect.
Not only is that not the case, it could hardly be further from the truth.
In fact, Day had to take control of his career trajectory as recently as two years ago, to ensure he didn't slip through the cracks.
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The 19-year-old's grandfather, Robert, played in Hawthorn's 1971 premiership, while his cousin, Sam, has made 135 appearances for Gold Coast, so he has a good idea of what's required.
He wasn't getting a game for SANFL club Glenelg's under-18 team and didn't feel particularly close, so he bit the bullet, spoke to ex-Crow Jason Porplyzia – West Adelaide's then-talent manager – and switched clubs.
West Adelaide is the same team his grandfather made his name at, winning three best and fairests and making the 1966 All-Australian team.
Until that point, Day had never represented South Australia in any age group. One of the biggest knocks on him was he was too skinny and wouldn't handle the extra physicality.
Day's still slight, although he's piled on about 7kg since arriving at Hawthorn, but it hasn't stopped him making a mighty impression this season. He was the round 16 NAB AFL Rising Star nominee.
"In my mind, I probably felt like I was around the mark, but having others not really think that made it pretty difficult," he told AFL.com.au this week.
"It sort of gave me a bit more drive and determination and it probably ended up getting me there in the end – just playing with a bit more passion and really wanting it even more."
Day went on to play all four matches at last year's NAB AFL Under-18 Championships, with the Hawks selecting him months later with the No.13 draft pick.
He's already signed a two-year contract extension until the end of the 2023 season.
HAWTHORN'S new rising star is one half of the club's odd couple.
Club captain Ben Stratton, the craft beer connoisseur and part-time DJ, has taken Day under his wing ever since he wandered into Waverley Park.
Stratton typically checks in with Day before and after training to find out what he wants to work on and it's common to see the two of them working on their defensive craft post-sessions.
However, it goes beyond that. Stratton sits in on Day's post-game film reviews, and vice versa. As defensive coach Chris Newman told AFL.com.au this week: "They swarm to each other."
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"Stratts is the captain of our club and the spiritual warrior in our back end," Clarkson said.
"You'd expect any young player who comes into the club would align himself pretty closely to a leader and player of Stratts' experience and calibre.
"They're different sorts of beasts, those two lads. They're not cut from the same cloth, by any stretch, but because of that, strangely enough, they've got a pretty tight bond."
Day considers Stratton a close friend now, and Stratton – beyond his natural instinct to help the next wave of Hawks – probably recognises just how promising this kid is.
Asked in August who Day reminded him of, Stratton paused before offering Collingwood's intercept specialist Jeremy Howe.
Greater Western Sydney's Lachie Whitfield is another star footballer whom Day's been likened to, while the teenager himself models his game on another star Giant, Nick Haynes.
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"Me comparing myself to someone of that calibre is just to get to a really high standard," Day said.
"But it's pretty flattering if it's coming from someone like Ben Stratton and I take it as a very big compliment.
"At the end of the day, I want people to compare themselves to me, so hopefully I can become the name that's being compared to."
WHAT Newman loves about Day, apart from his obvious on-field ability, is his easygoing, relatable nature.
He's surprised to see how comfortably Day switches from hanging out with fellow Hawthorn draftees, to chewing the fat with the club's grizzled veterans, and even playing with Newman's three kids.
People young and old gravitate to him.
Newman's children, aged six, five and two, remind Day of what his sisters – Bella, 16, and Emme, 11 – were like when they were younger. They've helped him feel more at home during hub life.
As for mixing with older people, Day said his days as a more-than-handy baseballer playing with more seasoned teammates prepared him perfectly.
He hopes overlapping with the tail end of a number of Hawks premiership greats' careers – Stratton, Shaun Burgoyne, Isaac Smith, Jack Gunston, Luke Breust and co. – will also serve him well.
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Hawthorn is experiencing a period of transition, with nobody quite sure what to make of this unusually down year or able to confidently predict what will happen next.
One aspect everyone agrees on is that Day will be a major part of the future.
"I think I've come in at a pretty good time, to be honest," he said.
"To still have quite a few older guys at the club will be really good for my first few years, then hopefully we'll bring in some good young talent and we can grow as a team.
"You look at GWS, where a lot of young guys came through together with a good connection and you see how they've been going the past few years, so it's pretty exciting."