"You try to prepare yourself for life after footy, but there's always that moment when you think 'what now, what next'. Then this opportunity arose . . . I couldn't pass it up."
Two years after hanging up his guernsey, former AFL star Des Headland, 31, has moved to Broome with his family to mentor Aboriginal students at the Clontarf Foundation West Kimberley Academy.
A veteran of more than 200 games for Brisbane, Fremantle and WAFL club Subiaco, Mr Headland said he wanted to give back to the community that had supported his stellar career.
As a young Noongar kid in Merredin, Mr Headland was starry-eyed when AFL greats Craig Turley and Barry Cable came to town, spurring him on to follow his dreams.
Today, he works with Year 11 and 12 boys at Clontarf to ensure they all graduate from high school by encouraging a disciplined approach to life, school and health.
"I was in Year 11 when I got drafted so I didn't get to finish school, which is something I really wish I'd done," he said. "That's why I try and tell the boys to make sure they graduate because opportunity later in life comes from having a graduation certificate."
In the past few weeks, Mr Headland has developed a fitness and footy training program and become a sounding board and friend to students who might be struggling with issues at home or school.
"It doesn't just finish there - I'll still keep in contact with the boys over the next few years and make sure that life after school is going well," he said.
Mr Headland said many young Kimberley men found leaving home for work or education a "big sacrifice".
"What I can bring to that is that when I was 17 I got drafted all the way to the Brisbane Lions - I had to leave home to fulfil my dream," he said.
He stressed football was just a hook to attract students to Clontarf - only about two thirds of the 135 boys in Broome play, but almost all graduate from high school each year and go on to become leaders in their communities.
Year 12 student Jeffery Hansen, a former high school dropout from Wyndham, said he had aspirations of being a professional boxer after graduation.He could not have got through school without Clontarf's help, he said.
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