IT WAS the patience of his uncles that lit the fuse for Leek Aleer's love of football.

When the young Central District prospect arrived in Australia at the age of five, having fled war-torn South Sudan with his mother Tabitha and younger sister Agot, he was immediately captured by the game that had already gripped his extended family.

They would gather around the television, invested in a handful of teams and a collection of their favourite players, and watch every game they could. One uncle in particular, Chol, had already developed a fiery passion for the Adelaide Crows and was determined to ensure that Aleer followed in his footsteps.

Aleer would ask questions about the brute force of Mark Ricciuto, the grace of Andrew McLeod and the high-leaping abilities of Brett Burton. Aleer's uncles, at his insistence, would answer each and every one of them. Soon, their obsession became his and a dream to play at the highest level was born.

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"Before I started school, when I first came over to Australia, my uncles would sit in front of the TV and watch footy," Aleer told AFL.com.au.

"I didn't know much about it, but it was an intriguing sport and they loved it. They had their own favourite teams and they had their own favourite players, so I'd just sit around them and ask them a bunch of questions trying to understand what footy was and which team was which and which players they liked the most.

"I was trying to understand the rules and the specifics. They were very good and patient with me in that respect, they would try and teach me and persuade me to like their teams and their favourite players. It almost became a family bonding thing."

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From an early age, Aleer would never be seen without a footy. Whether it was in the school yard, in his spare time or playing around at home, he would become attached to the game he will soon call his profession.

"Besides learning English and going to school, I think footy was one of the earliest things I learnt about the Australian culture and something that I definitely fell in love with very early on," Aleer said.

"At school, whether it was recess or lunch, I would always run to the gym and grab a footy and start kicking it around with my mates. I'd do that before anything. From my very early childhood, when I came over here as a five-year-old and going to school … you'd always see me with a ball in my hands."

The ball hardly left Aleer's hands in this year's SANFL campaign with Central District, either, as the 196cm prospect quickly emerged as one of the best intercept defenders in this season's NAB AFL Draft crop.

Central Districts defender Leek Aleer flies for a mark. Picture: Robert Laidlaw

Aleer, who turned 20 in August, posted elite aerial numbers and had the type of gravitational pull in the backline that would force teams to change the way they attacked against the Bulldogs this year.

According to Champion Data, Aleer ranked top-10 in the SANFL for intercept marks (2.5 per game), intercept possessions (6.5 per game) and spoils (5.9 per game) this season. He followed that by smashing the all-time record for the running vertical jump at the South Australian Draft Combine, hitting an incredible 107cm to break Kyron Hayden's previous record by a whopping 4cm.

It all came in a year where he was still developing his defensive craft. Having only played in key forward and ruck roles throughout his junior career – and having never played a senior SANFL game before earning his debut in late May – new Central District coach Paul Thomas pulled Aleer aside on the first night of pre-season training last summer. The conversation proved a telling one.

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"I remember 'Thommo' came up to me and asked me if I'd ever played back before. I told him I'd never played there, but obviously I was very keen on trying something new," Aleer said.

"They wanted to test me out in the backline and see whether or not I could utilise my athletic ability, my speed and my ability to read the ball mid-flight to really certify myself down back and potentially give myself the opportunity to play League footy.

"At the time, I think we had about 20 forwards. One thing he relayed onto me was the fact that he didn't want me to get washed into that big number of forwards and get left behind or go unnoticed. He wanted to give me the opportunity to really prove myself and show the club and the team that I could play at that high level."

Aleer ultimately became a mainstay in Central District's team for the remainder of the year, stringing together 11 senior appearances and quickly becoming one of the country's best mature-aged talents.

Leek Aleer (L) in action for Central Districts. Picture: David Mariuz

AFL recruiters subsequently think he could be selected as early as the second-round in this month's NAB AFL Draft, with a host of clubs with picks in the 20s eagerly anticipating whether Aleer will still be available at their selections.

Aleer perhaps could have already found himself on an AFL list at an earlier age, had injury not ravaged his previous two seasons. A gruesome incident, which saw his leg get caught in a tackle just weeks into his draft year in 2019, left him with a dislocated ankle and a broken fibula.

The setbacks piled up. Ligament damage stemming from the injury resulted in a limited range of motion in his ankle, with the subsequent tightness leading to stress fractures in his foot. What had initially been diagnosed as a six-month recovery time eventually became more than 15 months on the sidelines.

"Being injured in my draft year and being injured playing as an over-ager, I did question myself at times whether or not I was going to be able to get back to my athletic self," Aleer said.

"I questioned myself, but I stayed persistent and remained focus. I just tried to really work on myself emotionally, mentally and physically to try and get my body right. When I was given that opportunity to go and play down back, I was very grateful because I saw the potential in it.

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"I worked really hard. I didn't understand as many aspects of playing down back as I could, but I thought if I could really certify myself as an elite defender that the team could utilise then I could get opportunities. There's not a whole number of key defenders that are 6ft 5in and can take a mark, so I was optimistic about what could potentially happen.

"I knew that there was no point in giving up. Every day, I just wanted to get my body right and I wanted to get myself to a place where I could really get an opportunity to prove myself and my abilities on the field.

"I definitely questioned myself, whether or not I was going to be able to get back to competing at that high level, but evidently I think my perseverance and my desire to get back to playing footy and my love for footy overcame all of those doubts."

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There was another motivation that helped Aleer get back on the field, one that still drives him towards every contest to this day. Having fled South Sudan with his mother and his younger sister in 2006, making it to the AFL is as much for his family as it is for him.

"My mum essentially left all that she knew to come over to Australia and give myself and my younger sister a better opportunity and to really give us a life where we could choose and shape our own lives without the other aspects such as war and famine and hunger," Aleer said.

"The amount of sacrifices that she made to get us here, it really shows her character and it would mean a lot to her for me to hopefully make it into an AFL system and build a career for myself.

"It's not easy to leave a life that you know to start a completely different one, especially for the betterment of your children. From that aspect, I appreciate her a lot. She's one of those people that really inspires me to continually try and succeed and prosper in whatever it is that I put my mind to and whatever it is that I want to do."

Leek Aleer in action at the SA Draft Combine on October 16, 2021. Picture: AFL Photos

Aleer also recognises the importance of the role he can play within the South Sudanese community, both in South Australia and across the country, should he realise the dream that formulated in his mind as a five-year-old.

"I just want to be that individual who can motivate them and show them that it's not the special people that make it, it's anybody," Aleer said.

"If you put your head down, work really hard and focus, then regardless of whatever circumstances may come your way and whatever hardships may come your way … if you persevere and stay strong and focus, you can get wherever you want to get to.

"From that aspect, for my community and the South Sudanese community, for my coaches and my friends and family members, I think I'd definitely be making them proud. I'd love to show them that their support over the years is something that I've appreciated a lot and something that's helped me with my drive and my passion."

Now, there's just one question left to answer as Aleer edges ever closer to realising his lifelong ambition. Should a club other than Adelaide call his name on November 24-25, what will his uncles do?

"I think they'll still probably support the Crows … but hopefully they would be more than keen to put on whatever jumper I'm wearing as well."