ARLO Draper had gotten used to moving around. He was born in Tasmania, before his parents spent time living on the road in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia. When he was young they went back to Tasmania before the family shifted to Port Willunga, a beach-side suburb about 45 minutes out of Adelaide where they have been based for the past 12 years.
"It was a fair bit of moving, but I was young and didn't really notice it. I was just going with the flow," Draper said.
It was a move of schools when he was in grade five that sticks most in the mind of Draper, a bright, engaging and talented prospect in this year's NAB AFL Draft pool who could be a top-20 pick when names are called later this month.
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Draper attended a local primary school before then shifting to the nearby Waldorf School, which practices the Steiner philosophy of learning. It is an education approach focused on developing students' practical, artistic and creative skills, with schools throughout the world and Australia.
"I remember we were doing a tour day at Waldorf and it was my first day there and I went into the class and they were in year five and they were sitting in a circle singing songs so it was a pretty big shift going into that environment where it's got a lot to do with music and nature and relationships," Draper said.
While there, the students remain in the same grade from reception through to year 12, forming close bonds with their classmates, which Draper experienced until year nine when he headed back to the more mainstream high school Cardijn College.
"I enjoyed the community aspect of it because we only had about 350 students so it was really small. You knew everyone, you knew all the teachers personally. You knew every student personally, you got to bond with your class, every year you'd go on these elaborate camps and they were pretty full on," he said.
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"Someone looking from the outside who's not in it would probably say 'That's pretty unusual, that's a bit weird' and some may say 'A bit hippie' or what not but when you're in the schooling you don't really see it like that. It's your normal and you really enjoy it and you develop a lot of cool relationships and experience a lot of cool things.
"It was great and I'm really happy I did it but as I got a bit older and wanted to go back to that more mainstream schooling."
That came with its own unique challenges early on.
"I had to learn my way around a computer. All the kids were setting up these really cool PowerPoints and I'd be sitting there going 'Hey, help me out!' I got my head around it and it was all good," he said.
It was also the stage Draper started to get his head around a tilt at an AFL career, an ambition set to be realised in less than three weeks as the 18-year-old prepares himself for what's next. Draper (who is no relation to Essendon's Sam) is a versatile player who spent most of his season in the midfield with stints across half-forward, too, where his smart decision-making, classy ball use and overhead marking made him a threat.
He played at all levels for South Adelaide – under-18s, reserves and seniors – before finishing his season across half-back for South Australia in the Grand Final day curtain-raiser at Optus Stadium.
Draper was impressing in the role, the first time this season he had stationed in defence, before he busted his shoulder with a bad AC joint injury that saw him sit out the second half with his arm in a sling. He was, at least, able to hang around and watch Melbourne's historic premiership win later that day, albeit with a numb arm which required surgery days later.
"It was a bit annoying but I had some anaesthetic and couldn't feel a thing so that was fine," he said. "It's healing up nicely now. When I first did it they said it could be three or four months, but I'm hoping I should be back for the start of pre-season. If not, I'll be able to do running but maybe just not full contact straight away."
The injury came after an ankle lay-off earlier in the season, with the 186cm Draper able to show his point of difference to clubs with his dare with the ball and impact around the ground. His fitness remains a focus, with an exercise bike in his bedroom getting a workout of late, while he has freed up extra time after stopping work at the pizza shop – "I hung up my Domino's boots" – to prepare for the next phase.
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"I've learned a lot from both injuries this year and at the end of the day I think I've got a nice body of work, I've done everything I can to put myself in a position to get picked up and now it's about embracing that," he said. "I try to take time to sit down and realise what could happen and how big it would be and what it would mean to me and it's just super exciting."