Few players are like Ryan Burton but, then again, this is no ordinary kid.
The Hawthorn youngster’s broken leg and badly damaged knee has been well documented, but Burton isn’t solely defined by the injuries he was forced to overcome in order to live out his dream.
The Hawks drafted Burton with a plan, with the first year designed for learning about Burton’s body and what it could and couldn’t do.
There was some unknown that surrounded Burton and while the Hawks were prepared to wait for steady progress, the man himself was less patient.
“He believed he was ready to play AFL footy straight up,” Andrew Russell, Hawthorn’s Elite Performance Manager, told AFLPlayers.com.au.
“He’s one of the rare players I’ve worked with who has come into the system thinking they’re ready to play, that they knew they were good enough straight away.
“His body wasn’t ready initially so he wasn’t ready to play even though he thought he was.”
Russell loved Burton’s confidence in his own abilities — a trait he believes is common among the league’s greats.
While there were initial reservations of the 22Under22 squad member’s durability, Russell knew after meeting Burton that it was only a matter of time until he saw him on the MCG turf, such was his strong-willed attitude.
That temperament was evident in a younger Burton — who often had to compete against his older brother in the backyard before playing above his age group throughout his junior footy career.
“We noticed from an early age a real tenacity and a want to win,” Burton’s father and former SANFL footballer, Craig, said.
“Sometimes it was at all costs and a bit too much but once he got that energy and that will to win in the right way, he really started coming on.
“I think a lot of people have the skillset but you need to have the other part of it. That tenacity was there the day he was born.”
In his own words, Burton wanted to be better than his brother and continually chasing more mature bodies in the schoolyard, backyard and on weekends instilled a healthy determination.
He preferred being a small fish in a big pond than vice versa which meant he dominated against players his own age and fits in with the elite.
Burton believes confidence has played a part in his ascension in his second season.
“I have self-belief and I think you need that if you want to play at this level, especially at this age,” Burton said before finishing runner-up in the 2017 Rising Star award.
“I’ve done a fair bit of hard work over the last couple of years to try and get back to where I am and that self-belief was a big factor in that.”
Surgery to remove the metal work in his knee was the only hiccup in Burton’s first AFL season and he still managed to defy all odds to break through for four AFL games.
The 20-year-old carried the momentum into the pre-season where he impressed despite undertaking restricted duties.
Russell complimented the North Adelaide product’s athletic qualities while being one of the club’s premier performers during the summer period.
“He did just under 80 per cent of our pre-season but he did the highest amount of red-zone running throughout the entire club — that’s high-end, fast running,” Russell added.
“He’s a powerful boy. He’s a strong boy who uses that in his game. He’s not 100kg but his power to weight ratio is very good.
“He backs in his power and strength and his ability to accelerate away from people and take the game on — he’s genuinely elite at that.”
2017 was the year Burton became a Hawthorn regular and a household name among fans as the club descended to 0-4 to start the year.
He represented a changing of the guard for Alastair Clarkson’s men, playing a key position in an undermanned defence and was often one of the Hawks best while they were at their lowest.
But it’s not just on the field where Burton has impressed. He’s a headstrong kid, who fights for his own way — another characteristic that’s helped his AFL rise.
“He’ll question everything and won’t take no for an answer. He’s always been like that,” his father explained.
“With Ryan that’s just the way it’s occurred and that’s just how he is. I don’t think you can instill that in someone as they grow up. It’s just a by-product.”
Burton’s career is only starting out but he’s already accomplished so much after initial fears about his quality of life following the 2015 injury.
And although he no longer carries the metal in his left leg, Burton has shown to be made of the right mettle.