Fight to Step Back and Think

YOU'D laugh in disbelief if I told you he was 20 years of age. You'd laugh further when you hear him open his mouth.

Because of all the maturity and growing up that Luke Mitchell has had to embody in his short life, he exudes, in his posture of a puffed chest, a llama-lipped facial expression and a strut, the confidence of a mature over-achieving owner of a multi-billion dollar social media network.

Born, raised, still living in - and proudly - Moonee Ponds in Melbourne's north-western suburbs; the pathway of Luke Mitchell from the green pastures of Aberfeldie Park across the road from his home, the youngest of five brothers, through the football teams under the proud name of Melbourne Grammar to making his debut, donning the famously infamous No 25, is one of twists, turns, persistence, heartbreak and elation.

The youngest son of Gavin and Denise Mitchell was the baby of the five-brother clan who were all obsessively kicking a football in the park across the road.

The gap between the swings were the goals, brotherly issues were outpoured amongst the grass, dirty, gravel and bark, and rules - well you look at the boys now, and you could tell that protection for the man going the ball wasn't always at the forefront of the rules.

The youngest boy always had potential. A lot of it actually. When he started to grow, so did the rumours surrounding whether he might not just make it, but be a genuine star.

As a 17 and 18-year-old, every time he puts his arms up to mark, the ball stuck in a vice-like grip and opponents fell about in his wake.

There was a lumbering approach to goal, a straight kick, a lion-hearted roar of "come on!" amid a mobbing of team-mates - and then that strut.

But it wasn't all smooth sailing. One day, a day that all footballers fear, a shoulder dislocation. Not too long after, so did the other one. And then came the subluxations. Again. And again. And again.

By the time the 2012 season rolled around, the young man whom we call "Squid" had had four shoulder reconstructions, yet in full belief that the worst was behind him.

A successful campaign in the gruelling pre-season held in Qatar and Abu Dhabi, Squid was primed.

Carlton was crying out for a tall target to support Jarrad Waite inside 50. Many of the Carlton faithful branded the message of "bring back Fev".

Yet the boy who ironically now wears the number 25 jersey that Brendan Fevola made iconic to the Navy Blue, was determined to change supporters' perceptions.

And then there was just an ordinary pre-season training, a match simulation drill, when the ball came towards Squid. He put his hands up to mark just like any other time, before the realisation that something wasn't quite right correlated the actuality the shoulders had subluxed for the fifth time in two years.

Disappointment is too shallow a word to describe the Squid as the strut and puffed chest was replaced by rounded shoulders and a downcast demeanour.

As it turns out, it's been one of those blessings in disguise. It gave us an opportunity to find out about Squid's character.

The off-field Luke Mitchell is multi-faceted. His sensitivity and empathy he shows towards a younger player correlates the mutual respect he has with the older players. He just as much carries the persona of being 'one of the boys' as he does being that loyal fifth brother.

Nothing epitomises this more than Luke, his brother Dave, and his belief in the Step Back & Think team and the work they do.

Step Back & Think is a team of students and professionals formed to raise awareness of street violence, alongside such organisations and strategies such as One Punch Can Kill.

Squid's connection to such a thing revolves around his brother Dave. Dave was maliciously provoked in an unwarranted fashion by a group of blokes he barely knew at a music festival.

Things were reignited outside a nightclub, yet seemed to be settled almost instantaneously between these blokes and Dave's friends.

However Dave was king hit by a member of the other group unwilling to conform to what the rest of his mates had settled on.

Dave was knocked unconscious, his head the first thing to hit the pavement. Not only that, Dave then had his head stomped repeatedly as a brawl erupted.

In light of an altercation earlier in the year when Heath Scotland stepped in to help his brother, knocking the initial perpetrator unconscious in country Victoria, Squid stood up in front of the group, displaying unaccounted maturity and leadership and presented the story of Dave and the impact it had from the perspective of a victim's family.

Through a miracle, Dave lives to tell the story of his near two-year long recovery and I strongly urge readers to visit YouTube on the internet to watch a video on Dave's recount of that night he nearly lost his life.

For more information, visit Step Back & Think's website.

Arguably, such courage to get up and tell this story, changed the previous larrikin view that many held of Squid.

That being said, his dry and laugh-out-loud humour is still an evident and likeable feature of his personality, along with a strong generosity for community and mates alike.

It was midway through June that Squid made a come back to footy through the VFL reserves on a cold, wet day down at Werribee. The Northern Blues side were on the wrong end of a 152-point thumping.

Squid, and he would probably admit this, looked like he'd never played football before. He admitted at half time to me that he was petrified to put his arms above his shoulders.

Playing only half a game to get fitness back, Squid kicked a goal and gave several contests when the ball went inside 50m, but the goal was achieved. The game was complete. The shoulders were intact.

This fear of not putting his arms above his head continued even weeks later, despite games where he bagged four and five goals respectively in the VFL.

But then it all changed. And on Sunday, September 2 2012, history will remember the day that Squid made his AFL debut against the Saints in Round 23 and joined the elusive club of kicking his first goal with his first kick in the AFL.

It's a long way from kicking a football between a swing set in the park and even further away from multiple trips to the shoulder surgeons consulting rooms and surgical table.

But with his most loyal and vocal mates in attendance, Denise and Gavin looking on proudly and his toughest opponents, his four brothers, including the courageous Dave, the Squid now reaps the rewards as an advocate of persistence pays off.

And I'm sure that come this time in 12 months, no longer will the Carlton faithful be calling for a return of 'Fev'.

They'll be quite happy with the young man who dons the No 25 jumper right now.



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