Adelaide defender Andrew McPherson could be forgiven for having doubts about his AFL future.
The South Australian battled injury for three consecutive seasons and was sidelined for large chunks of his draft year due to multiple injuries.
After being recruited by the Crows with pick No.40 in the 2017 AFL Draft, McPherson managed just 12 SANFL appearances across his first two years at West Lakes, dogged by persistent groin and hamstring injuries.
But armed with a positive mindset, the 21-year-old broke through for his AFL debut earlier this month – 960 days after his name was called on draft night.
“It has been a pretty big rollercoaster and obviously at times, a bit of doubt does creep in,” McPherson told AFC Media.
“But I think it’s trying to stow that away and try and focus on the positives.
“For me, it was ‘what can I get out of this stint in rehab and how am I going to improve my game?’ so that when I come back, I’ve got something to show for it.”
With the assistance of Adelaide’s medical staff, McPherson has developed a far better understanding of his body and what it takes to play week-in, week-out.
His lofty aspirations for self-improvement have been aided by working through a Sports and Mechanical Engineering course at the University of Adelaide.
“It’s something I did straight out of school and something that I quite enjoy. I’ll keep ticking along and see where it takes me,” McPherson said.
Fresh from a morning of study, McPherson believes hitting the books enables him to find a better balance away from football, particularly when injuries were weighing him down.
“That’s been really good… being able to let that take a back seat and focus on something outside of footy to create that balance in my life,” he said.
“I still find even now (that I’m) playing, I can get that good balance with uni and it’s something to free me up a bit.”
Stand-in captain Tom Doedee is one who has followed a similar path to the Woodville-West Torrens junior - both on and off the field.
Like McPherson, Doedee also had to wait until his third season to make his AFL debut and keeps himself grounded by studying a Bachelor of Communication and Media at UniSA.
Doedee’s leadership and guidance has been invaluable to the Crows’ emerging defenders, including Will Hamill, Fischer McAsey and McPherson.
“Playing with guys like that just makes me and a lot of the younger guys more comfortable,” McPherson said.
“You can just go about your role and feel good about it.”
McPherson downplayed following in Doedee’s leadership footsteps when asked, but the former SA Under-18 vice-captain demonstrates the right qualities.
Just three games into his AFL career, he is already looking to not only play his role but lift others up where possible.