NO ONE is more thankful for this year's SANFL season resuming than Jacob Wehr.
Before June, little more than five months ago, the 22-year-old Wehr had never played a senior SANFL game in his life. In fact, he wasn’t too far removed from being dropped from the reserves team at Woodville-West Torrens.
However, thanks to the season finally getting underway after a COVID-19 enforced layoff, as well as plenty of hard work and just a tiny ounce of luck, Wehr might now end this crazy, rollercoaster year on an AFL list.
No story leading into this season's NAB AFL Draft quite comes close to Wehr's. Four years ago, his final top-age season of junior football, the running defender from Balaklava could hardly even crack a SANFL under 18s side.
Not surprisingly, he didn't have a shred of AFL interest.
Plenty of graft went into earning his place in the Woodville-West Torrens' reserves outfit the year after he went undrafted in 2016. More toil went into securing 45 more reserves games ahead of this season. But never had he broken into the senior picture.
Dropped from the reserves six games into last year, Wehr – who labours for a painter as his full-time job – spent last summer surveying his options and considering the next steps in his footy future.
Remarkably, barely 12 months on, one of those options might now be a career in the AFL.
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"If you'd have told me I'd be getting interest when I got dropped from the reserves team last year, I would've laughed in your face," Wehr told AFL.com.au.
"It's been a rollercoaster. I didn't think I'd ever be lucky enough to even speak to AFL clubs, so it's all a bit surreal. I'm just taking it in my stride, as best I can, and we'll see what happens over the next few weeks."
A handful of clubs have shown an interest in the late-blooming Wehr, particularly in Victoria, with his draft stocks steadily rising ahead of the big night on December 9.
The question most of them want to know from him is an understandable one. How did he get to the point where it now looks possible he could become one of the few mature-aged players taken at next month's draft? After all, barely five months ago he was still anxiously waiting for a senior SANFL debut.
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But according to the humble and mature young defender with a raking left-foot kick, a return to form in the reserves – where he played the final 14 games of last season – and the arrival of Jade Sheedy as Woodville-West Torrens' senior coach all played their part.
"We did a lot of team scrimmage stuff during the last summer and I was bouncing between the League and the reserve squads throughout them," Wehr said.
"When I was with the reserves, I was able to play pretty well against the League side. That's when I thought to myself that I could play at the next level and compete with the top guys."
But even still, Wehr was out of the frame for a senior spot heading into what was meant to be the SANFL's season-opener back in March. Then the global COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country.
After a few months of hard lockdown, Woodville-West Torrens organised an intra-club match between the reserves and the senior team to prepare for the newly rearranged round one clash against South Adelaide. It was during that scratch match where Wehr finally got his chance.
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"I was actually the 25th man picked in the League squad because we had a bit of an extended bench," Wehr said.
"I played pretty well in that game on a wing and had a bit of the ball. I managed to do a few good things and I kicked a couple of goals.
"Sheeds said I picked myself for round one based off that game. I was always on the edge in pre-season and never thought I was a lock for round one, so it was a surprise. Then I was just lucky to hang in there throughout the year."
Wehr did more than simply 'hang in there'. He quickly became an integral member of a side that would ultimately win the SANFL premiership, playing all 17 games and becoming the creative outlet for the team off half-back.
The side's dedicated user out of defence, Wehr is pinpoint accurate in possession, clean by hand and foot, and loves to break the lines out of the backline. His Grand Final display against North Adelaide, where he won 19 disposals, was evidence of his rapid improvement.
"I just wanted to back myself," Wehr said.
"There were times last year where I was pretty low on confidence in the reserves. I took ownership after I got dropped and got fitter and stronger over the year.
"Sheeds came in as a new coach and pretty much told me to play on instinct and back myself. He played a lot of us young kids, which was good. We just got back to playing footy the way we knew how."
As for what's changed in the four years since Wehr completely missed his chance as a junior prospect, he puts the majority of it down to his body and his incredibly slender frame.
Wehr came into this year at 181cm and 67kgs. According to Champion Data, that's lighter than anyone else currently plying their trade in the AFL. It's why even the clubs who are interested in the South Australian still believe he'll need a big summer to prepare himself for the physical demands of senior footy at the next level.
"I was very small and very skinny – I'm still very skinny – but I certainly wasn't physically ready to play any sort of senior footy at 18 years old," Wehr said.
"I've gotten a bit bigger and stronger in the last year or so and that's really helped me, but as a junior I never really got looked at."
But if the season – and the journey itself – wasn't remarkable enough for Wehr, a SANFL premiership with the club that finally took a punt on the youngster midway through 2020 certainly capped off what has been a dream season.
"It was unreal," Wehr said.
"The 10 minutes after you've actually won the flag, when it starts to sink in, it would be right up there with the best moments in your life. It's just the best feeling. It was pure joy and a lot of emotion. It's pretty indescribable."
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As indescribable as potentially earning his place on an AFL list? Maybe not.
"During the season, it never really crossed my mind," Wehr said.
"It wasn't until the first club rang … I was pretty focused on playing my role at Woodville and never expected my performances to capture the attention of anyone higher. I didn't think this could happen, it's pretty unexpected.
"It's been a whirlwind and a rollercoaster 12 months, but here we are."