With his top-age NAB League campaign wiped out by a pre-season ACL injury, Bendigo Pioneers draft prospect Flynn Perez was forced to take a different perspective on football.
18-year-old Perez is hard to place among this year’s NAB AFL Draft crop. He didn’t play at any level in 2019 but showed enough promise in 15 games for the Pioneers last year to have AFL clubs keenly watching his recovery.
In 2018, the 187cm Sandhurst (Bendigo FL) junior impressed recruiters with his foot skills while running from defence as well as his versatility to play on different types of opponents.
This season, they’ll have seen Perez ride the emotional rollercoaster associated with long-term injury, throwing himself into his rehabilitation after some initial heartbreak and then taking up an off-field role at Bendigo.
He hopes his approach to football this year counts in his favour at November 27-28’s draft.
“I think the initial shock after the injury really hit me,” Perez said at the recent NAB AFL Draft Combine. “You think the worst and don’t really understand other things; all you’re thinking about is that you can’t play football.
“What I learnt is that you just have to put life in perspective, and missing footy for a season isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. As disappointing as it was, I just had to put it into perspective and do everything I possibly could to get myself right.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say the rehab was challenging at different times, but you need to learn to control those bad days and not let it get out of hand.
“It’s probably only natural for (my standing in the draft pool) to drop a bit given I haven’t played footy this year, but I’ve done everything I can to give myself the best opportunity at the draft and I think clubs will realise that.”
AFL clubs were, in fact, right on hand when Perez sustained the injury at a Vic Country training camp last December. “In front of all the recruiters”, his knee buckled as he moved to avoid tacklers coming toward him on both sides.
It took a while for the former state-level soccer player to see the positives during his recovery, but his perspective changed as the NAB League season started.
“I took on a coaching role at the Pioneers, just delivering messages from the coaches and helping the players understand what they’re trying to achieve,” Perez said. “I got heaps out of it and I’d hope the boys did too.
“I’d take some drills at training and be in the coaches box on match days. My role was to look at different aspects of the game and whatever we were focusing on that day.
“Some parts of it definitely surprised me. The thing I took most out of it was just the way the coaches see the game, because a player sees it a lot differently to how a coach does. It was interesting to hear what they think compared to what a player might think.
“Most people just watch the contest, but the role gave me a broader understanding of positioning behind the footy. I think that’s now one of my strengths – being able to read the game and looking at different set-ups and how they can impact the game.”
NAB LEAGUE ‘FAST FIVE’ QUESTIONS
Most influential person on your football at Bendigo:
“(2017-19 head coach) Rick Coburn or (assistant coach) Danny O’Bree. They’ve been with me since the start and they’ve both been huge for my development.”
Most valuable lesson learned in the NAB League:
“Probably the importance of perspective, particularly given my injury. You can get a bit obsessed with footy, but it’s important to put things into perspective and enjoy aspects of life other than footy.”
Teammate you’ve most enjoyed sharing the NAB League journey with:
“One of my best mates, Will Wallace. I love the way he goes about it. He’s just a competitor and I love playing with him.”
Most difficult NAB League opponent:
“I played on Zak Butters (ex-Western Jets, now Port Adelaide) last year. He’s a good player who runs all day. The Jets won, but I think we both had a pretty solid match. It was a good learning experience.”
Most memorable NAB League moment:
“We played the Gippsland Power (in Round 10) last year and we had a lot of bottom-agers in our team. We got the chocolates (won by 20 points) on a wet day, so it created a bit of culture at the club.”
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