Dons fans received a glimpse into the future when ruckman Sam Draper made his debut in 2020.
In round nine against Brisbane, the 205cm giant, who only first touched a Sherrin in 2016, showcased why the Bombers selected him with the first pick of the 2016 rookie draft.
The 22-year-old displayed incredible athleticism, which combined with his superior height, made him a formidable proposition in ruck contests around the ground.
On a night where the club was outplayed by a well-drilled Brisbane outfit, Draper held his own, registering 21 hitouts, nine disposals, three inside 50s and two marks.
However, Draper’s path to his first game was a frustrating one, with the young ruckman having to endure a methodical rehabilitation program after sustaining an ACL injury in the VFL last year.
Reflecting on the process of overcoming a significant obstacle, and one which is traditionally harder for taller players of the game to deal with, Draper said the experience helped him prepare for the rigours of senior football.
“I took a lot of confidence out of my rehab. It was 14 months that I hadn’t played for,” Draper told teammate David Zaharakis in Blazing the Trail - a short video series on Essendon's 2020 debutants brought to you by House of Marley.
“I had a few practice games where there was no VFL, playing just 12 on 12 and 14 on 14 match simulation.
“I just really got what I could out of those games and then got some form leading up to my debut and I thought I did that well and I’m glad I got those games on the way.”
One aspect of any player’s debut which always warms the heart of fans is the imagery of debutants sharing a moment with their family before the match.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic flipping traditions on their head, those occasions haven’t been occurring in 2020.
Draper still managed to find a way to share some special moments, however, as he prepared for the biggest game of his career so far.
“Before the game, I was lucky to have my family up there,” Draper said.
“Obviously (they weren’t) allowed in the rooms, so I ran over to the other side and said g’day to my parents, so that was a pretty special moment for me.”
With stalwart big man Tom Bellchambers calling time on his 136-game career, Draper, along with Andrew Phillips and Nick Bryan, will now vie to become the No.1 ruckman for the red and black.
In his eight AFL games, Draper can already lay claim to mixing it with some of the competition’s best, having played against Nic Naitanui, Max Gawn, Patrick Ryder and Scott Lycett.
It’s something which Draper said will help him develop into the ruckman he know he can be.
“This year has been great for me,” he said.
“The amount of learnings I’ve had playing against great ruckmen has been unbelievable for my development.
“I’m just looking forward to improving each week.”
Blazing the Trail is brought to you by the club's official headphone and portable audio partner House of Marley. Rewatch the episode on Irving Mosquito and stay tuned for the next one on Ned Cahill, as the youngsters talk about what prepared them for their debuts, their favourite moments from it, and what they learned.