Emerging ruck Sam Draper says there is plenty of love within Essendon’s young squad after breaking through for his first run on the track since tearing his ACL.
Draper had been off the ground since suffering the season-ending knee injury against Geelong at the MCG in May, but Thursday’s pre-season session saw him make an emotional return to the grass at The Hangar.
The 22-year-old said it was great to be surrounded by his teammates for the special moment.
“It was a pretty exciting day for me; my first run on the track. The boys were there to get around me, which made it pretty exciting,” Draper said on Thursday.
“I was a bit worried about if I still had it, but I can still run, which is good.
“It just makes it pretty special, the fact that they’ve been there with me through it. To see them so happy made me even more happy, which is great.”
Bar a handful of more senior Bombers, those who have returned for pre-season training are first-to-fourth-year players and Draper said the united support on Thursday was a sign of the camaraderie within the young playing group.
“It’s pretty good at the moment, we’re building something quite special,” he said.
“We’re a group of young boys that work pretty hard and really love each other, so it’s good.”
Draper was a revelation in 2018, finishing equal-fifth in the VFL best and fairest after dominating in the ruck to record more than 40 hitouts on seven occasions including three games of 60 or more hitouts.
Draper fights for a hit-out against Footscray in 2018. (Image: AFL Photos)
The young gun was held back to just three full games this year before suffering the injury, but his terrific form – averaging 15 disposals and 29 hitouts – showed he had lost no momentum on the field.
Draper signed a contract in August that will see him remain in the red and black until at least the end of the 2023 season in a strong display of faith from both parties and he said he is on track to line up in some capacity in round one next year.
“It’s a bit of straight-line running first and then introducing some off-line stuff and hopefully getting some training done in about February. If all goes well, I’ll be playing a half around round one.
“(The knee has) been pretty steady for the last couple of months, but hopefully now I can get some good improvements in the gym and out on the track.”
He certainly hasn’t missed out on the opportunity to train in the gym since being forced from the track, but the impressive youngster is keen now to get the chance to put in the time to get rock-hard fit and continue to develop his ruck craft.
“I’m doing what I can at the moment with (ruck coach) Mark Jamar when he comes in, but hopefully as my rehab progresses that (ruck craft) will progress too.
“I’ve probably been hitting the gym a bit too much at the moment, I probably need to strip back a few kilos as the running progresses, so I look forward to that.”