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Opportunity knocks, Lever answers

Jake Lever of the Crows is sprayed with Gatorade drink as he celebrates victory with his team mates after the 2015 AFL Round 06 match between the Gold Coast Suns and the Adelaide Crows at Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast on May 09, 2015. (Photo: Bradley Kanaris/AFL Media)
Jake Lever of the Crows is sprayed with Gatorade drink as he celebrates victory with his team mates after the 2015 AFL Round 06 match between the Gold Coast Suns and the Adelaide Crows at Metricon Stadium, Gold Coast on May 09, 2015. (Photo: Bradley Kanaris/AFL Media)
It (my debut) is definitely earlier than expected, but I’m not holding back.
Jake Lever

Jake Lever admits his AFL debut came earlier than expected, but says he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity he’s been given.

Lever, 19, made a promising debut in Adelaide’s 41-point win over Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium on Saturday night. It was only Lever’s sixth game (at any level) since rupturing his ACL at training with the AIS-AFL Academy in December, 2013.

At first, coach Phil Walsh didn’t expect the lanky teenager, who sat out the entire 2014 season as he recuperated from his knee reconstruction, to play any AFL football in his first year at the Club. But Adelaide’s first pick in last year’s national draft rocketed into contention with an excellent start to the season in the SANFL.

Despite earning AFL selection ahead of schedule, Lever said he felt ready to play at the highest level.

“I sat down with Walshy at the start of the year. He said, ‘We just want to get you back from the knee (injury), start playing and get games into you’,” Lever said on Saturday night.

“It (my debut) is definitely earlier than expected, but I’m not holding back.

“I want to take every opportunity I get. Hopefully, now we can go onto bigger and better things next week against St Kilda and aim for another win.”

Lever’s possible selection was mooted early in the week, but the former Calder Cannon and Victoria Metro representative didn’t find out he was playing against the Suns until Thursday.

It was nice symmetry for Lever, who became a Crow at the draft on the Gold Coast last November.

“The SANFL boys went home after their captain’s run on Thursday because they were playing Friday night. I actually went up and asked Walshy if I had to go home,” Lever said.

“He sort of said, ‘Oh, no you can stay if you want’ … and then he told me I was going to play my first AFL game. I was over the moon. Dad was rapt too.

“I rang Mum and she didn’t answer because she was in class at school. She called back and I said to her, ‘Oh, can you do something for me when you get home?’ Mum said, ‘What’s that?’ and I said, ‘Can you pack your bags because we’re going to the Gold Coast!” She screamed into the phone.”

Lever displayed composure and neat skills under pressure in his first AFL game.

The 194cm, 85kg, backman gathered 17 possessions at 88.2 per cent efficiency, took 10 marks and had five ‘one-percenters’. He had a tough first-up assignment against much taller Suns opponents Tom Lynch and Zac Smith, who only kicked one goal combined.

“You’ve heard a lot about us being a ‘team defence’ team and I think that’s what happened tonight,” Lever said.

“Myself and ‘Tals’ (Daniel Talia) had a lot of help from Rory Laird and Kyle Cheney. They were fantastic at coming over third-in. Playing on those sort of blokes (Tom Lynch and Zac Smith) was a learning curve for me, and the help was fantastic.”

Walsh was full of praise for Lever and fellow ‘Jake’, Jake Kelly, after the match.

“The back six or seven were really good today,” he said.

“Jake Lever and Jake Kelly, just two young guys who I thought held their own. Hopefully, we’ve found two good guys for our Club going forward.”

Lever played 96 per cent game time in his first AFL hit-out, second only to Talia on the ground.

“I started cramping up in the third quarter,” he said with a laugh.

“There was a lot of running, and it’s definitely different to the SANFL but I loved it out there.”

It might only be one game, but as well as being the realisation of a boyhood dream it was a reward for nearly 18 months of pain-staking rehabilitation from an injury that saw Lever slide from being a potential top-three draft pick to No.14 in the draft.

“It was probably the best thing for me, sitting out 12 months, learning the game and having an appreciation for football – that was probably the biggest thing I got out of it,” the level-headed teenager said.

“When I first got here (to the Club) I was a bit frustrated that they wouldn’t let me do all the training right away, but I spoke to the medical team and they explained it to me fully. I understood what I had to do and what things I had to tick off. When you’re at the Club all the time, you can tick them off a bit quicker than if you were working a 9-5 job.

“The Club has been fantastic.”

Lever’s parents, Al and Narelle, brothers Tyson and Connor and sister Mikeely were all on hand to watch Jake play his first AFL game in Crows colours. The family was also in the rooms to watch the former Romsey junior receive the traditional Gatorade shower following his first win.

Lever described the experience as “surreal”.

“I was a bit nervous before the game, but to come up here to the Gold Coast and get the win was everything I asked for,” he said.

“We came up here wanting to win. We spoke during the week about wanting to play four quarters of good footy and I think we only played patches tonight. We know we have to improve.”