From his first glance at a strangely shaped ball to earning a shot at stopping an AFL legend, GWS defender Leek Aleer has already been on quite a journey through sport.
And now the spring-heeled 195cm talent is really starting to take flight.
Aleer made national draft history last November as one of two South Sudanese players selected in the first round – picked at No.15 overall – alongside Gold Coast’s Mac Andrew (No.5).
The 20-year-old has had to overcome injury setbacks this year but his resilience, persistence and dedication to developing his game have paid off.
The emotional journey has reached a point where Aleer now faces the prospect of lining up against goal-kicking champion Lance Franklin at a packed SCG.
“Obviously the thought’s gone through my head,” Aleer said ahead of his AFL debut in Saturday’s Sydney derby.
“It’s one of those things where as a unit we know what our job is and we know what we’re going to do on the weekend.
“If I get to have a moment where I’m on Buddy (Franklin) then I’ll strap my boots up and go hard at it.
“Essentially it’s another game of football but it’s a special game of football.
“With it being my first game, I just want to go out there, have fun, lean on my teammates and embrace what the night has (to offer).”
Aleer settled in Adelaide with his family as a five-year-old and was a childhood Crows fan who rose through the ranks with SANFL club Central District.
He idolised former Swans and now Port Adelaide defender Aliir Aliir, follows fellow SA products Michael and Martin Frederick closely, and hopes to set a positive example for South Sudanese kids.
A whirlwind first year at GWS, where he has developed his game under veteran defender Phil Davis’ tutelage, has improved Aleer’s skills, decision-making, hardness and football smarts.
It has turned the tall defender into a perceptive back-man in the Aliir mould who can read the play.
But it wasn’t always that way – certainly not as a five-year-old when Aleer first picked up a football in his new home.
“It was really strange at first because I’d never seen a ball shaped the way an AFL ball was shaped,” Aleer said.
“But knowing that was a sport that was embraced by so many people and a sport that brought people close together, it was something that I was more than willing to try out and have a crack at.
“Ever since that first day I picked up a football, the embrace and the friendships that I learnt to formulate through football were the main driving factors as to why I love the sport to this day.”
Aleer learnt of his AFL call-up when GWS interim coach Mark McVeigh summoned the playing group for a motivational talk in the lead-up to Saturday’s derby.
He was clueless until he saw his five younger sisters and mother Tabitha walk into the room, the family having been flown by the Giants from Adelaide to Sydney for Aleer’s debut.
“I was a bit shocked and I had no idea that was going to happen, so the club did that really beautifully,” Aleer said.
“I almost got a bit emotional seeing the sight of my younger siblings and my mum.
“They came in with my jumper and it was unreal.”