The journey footballers take to reaching the heights of the AFL are varied.
There’s not many who would be considered as draft candidates having not played the game for six months, let alone being taken in the first round.
But for a determined Zak Butters, he wasn’t going to let anything hinder his chances of being on an AFL list in 2019.
Affected by a persistent shoulder injury, season-ending surgery was a requirement but the Western Jets product negotiated with medical staff for it to be postponed until after the National Championships.
“I spoke to a lot of people for advice… you name them and I’ve spoken to them about my options,” Butters told AFLPlayers.com.au during his first pre-season with Port Adelaide.
Despite being made aware of the risks, he was determined to play as much football as he could before his body would no longer hold up.
“I didn’t want to have any regrets going forward so I said, ‘stuff it, I’m going out there’ and leaving no stone unturned. I love footy and I couldn’t help wanting to play knowing that this year would be one of the biggest of my life.”
Port Adelaide saw enough in Butters’ eight TAC Cup games to call his name out with the 12th selection at the National AFL Draft.
He eventually underwent surgery in the days following Vic Metro’s final Championship game against South Australia.
As his teammates focused on making the finals, Butters spent the back-end of the TAC Cup season in the gym and completing his rehab so he would be ready for day one of pre-season, wherever that may have been.
“I had my days where I doubted myself, but my rehab was to prepare me for this moment,” Butters said.
“I don’t regret my decision (to play through the pain) and if anything, I think it’s made me a better person and a better player.”
Like most of this year’s draft class, playing AFL has been a lifelong dream for the new Port Adelaide draftee.
As a six-year-old, he joined his local Auskick clinic but found the program to be too “boring” for his competitive nature, opting instead to play at the highest level he could — under-10s.
“I’ve been that kid that had a footy in my hand since I was a baby,” he said.
“I’ve always taken it seriously, even through juniors and I think that has held me in really good stead.”
Described by his under-18 coaches as tenacious, Butters plays his football on the edge, always trying to establish something over his opponents.
During the Vic Metro vs. Vic Country game in the under-18 National Championships, Butters engaged in a sledge-off with Country’s Ned McHenry, who was drafted by Adelaide with pick 16, and he was coy on bringing the competitiveness into the Showdown, saying it was all in good jest.
“Ned and I are always buzzing around and love to throw a bit of lip. Every time we played each other we basically gave hell to each other but that’s just footy. We both love the competitive side of the game.”
It’s his competitive, play on the edge nature that’s helped Butters form an early bond with Port Adelaide midfielder Tom Rockliff.
“We’ve gelled really well. We’re both cheeky and competitive. He’s always asking how I am, and giving advice. He’s a standout bloke.”
As for his life away from football, Butters worked as a part-time landscape gardener in between his VCE commitments but for now his focus is firmly on earning his spot in the Power’s 22.
“They gave me the opportunity to move over here and play footy and I’ll be forever grateful for that.”