James Worpel during the AFL match between Hawthorn and St Kilda in Round 4, 2022 (Photo by Cameron Grimes / Zero Digital Media)

From a breakout second year to criticism soon after, Hawthorn's James Worpel has quickly become familiar with the highs and lows of AFL football.

The Hawthorn midfielder was a Peter Crimmins medallist after just 33 games as a Hawk, enjoying a rapid rise in the top flight that placed him on a path few footballers get to cross.

Finding that same form hasn't been easy for Worpel to attain in recent seasons, but the expectations of being among the club's best remain.

Being demoted to the reserves last year looked to be a low point for the emerging midfielder before injuries soon took their toll, with a shoulder setback that would require season-ending surgery in July only adding further frustrations to Worpel's most recent campaign.

Speaking to Zero Hanger, the blonde-haired Hawk detailed the mental obstacles that come with rehabilitation and the need to remain positive amid a time of pain.

"It's been a bit challenging," Worpel said.

"Footy is a very mental game and it's full of ups and downs. I'm so early on in my career and (injuries) are going to keep happening throughout.

"No one ever gets through unscathed and that's the hard thing about footy, you've got to keep fronting up every week.

"Sometimes you get down in these dumps and you get injured and it seems like the world's falling upon you, but it's never as good or as bad as it seems.

"I'm still here, still at Hawthorn."

Now entering his sixth season at Waverley, Worpel's contract with the Hawks is set to expire at season's end, prompting the Bell Park product to decide on his future for the second time in his career.

After a busy off-season of signings at the Hawks that has seen the likes of Jai Newcombe, Dylan Moore and Ned Reeves recommit to the club, Worpel believes he too will be donning the brown and gold from 2024, but understands nothing is set in stone.

"Who knows what could happen," Worpel said.

"I'm still confident I'll be at the Hawks next year. Hopefully this year is gonna be my year.

LAUNCESTON, AUSTRALIA - MAY 25: James Worpel of the Hawks celebrates after kicking a goal during the round 10 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Port Adelaide Power at University of Tasmania Stadium on May 25, 2019 in Launceston, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

"We haven't talked to the club, they're probably getting the main boys (signed)... Jai, Moorey, they're pretty important players for us."

But while questions remain over his future at Bunjil Bagora, Worpel has been able to see the funnier side of facing uncertainty.

"Who knows if they've got any money left for me at the end of the year," Worpel laughed.

"They might slide me (a contract) but I haven't talked about that. It's more important to get the other boys done first."

Worpel burst onto the scene in his sophomore season as a 20-year-old in 2019, playing every game for the year to take out the club's best and fairest in the absence of injured reigning Brownlow Medal winner Tom Mitchell.

The 24-year-old has since faded from the spotlight and has been met with criticism over the trajectory of his development, facing a drop in his output across the succeeding seasons as Hawthorn too descended to rank as a bottom eight side.

Understanding how attention is attracted to the star names, Worpel isn't fazed by notions his best football, and the benefits that come with it, have passed him.

"It's interesting. People are quick to jump to conclusions and forget about you a little bit, which is fine," he said,

"You've got to focus on the boys playing well and encourage boys to play well and be themselves and get themselves out there.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 23: (L-R) Isaac Smith of the Hawks and James Worpel of the Hawks celebrate during the round one AFL match between the Adelaide Crows and the Hawthorn Hawks at Adelaide Oval on March 23, 2019 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

"But footy's a long game, you're here for 10 or so years. It is what it is I guess."

Often placed as a third or fourth-string midfielder in 2022, at times sharing his workload across the forward 50, Worpel now has his sights on rekindling the role that saw him flourish in his earliest years at the club.

Following the departures of Mitchell and Jaeger O'Meara through the off-season, Worpel now finds himself as the senior figure in Sam Mitchell's engine room ensemble, an opportunity he's ready to take with both hands.

The club's midfield shapeshift has opened the door for their younger ranks to also take on key roles, much like Worpel did in 2019.

Hawthorn have significantly bolstered their midfield in the past two years through the draft, adding exciting talent in Jai Newcombe, Josh Ward, Cameron Mackenzie, Connor MacDonald and Henry Hustwaite, buoying Worpel and the club's fans.

"There'll be heaps more opportunities (in midfield). We've got a young group in there," Worpel said.

"I think I'm the most experienced now which is crazy. Some of the boys in there are playing some really good footy.

"Hustwaite's been good, I could name all five or six that we drafted.

"I think Bailey Macdonald has looked pretty good off half-back which is nice. He's the quickest man ever so good luck catching when he gets the footy.

"We've got heaps of young boys coming through and they're gonna get exposed throughout the year I'd assume with such a young group and competition for spots. It's a really exciting time."

Pulling on the No.5 jumper for another year, Worpel has senior coach Sam Mitchell, the man who shared the same locker, to thank for the growth he's undergone as both a player and person.

Having worked closely together during Micthell's tenure as a midfield coach several seasons ago, the pair built a close bond as Worpel was able to learn the ropes from a five-time Peter Crimmins medallist.

While Mitchell now has his hands full with senior coaching duties, the pair's relationship continues to flourish for Worpel's benefit.

"He doesn't have much time for me now," Worpel joked.

"He's getting a bit busy, which is fine. He's got 48 other blokes to look after.

"It's been pretty well documented our relationship in the past. I'm continuing to learn and he was such a good player and similar roles we play so the more I can learn off him and grow into his shoes. He's great for me."

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The 'unsociable Hawks' tag is one of many traits Mitchell has looked to bring back to the club under his tutelage, with Wednesday's intraclub clash seeing tempers flare on multiple occasions.

Reigininting some fire within the squad, the playing group have looked to build a new level of respect for one another in keeping each other on their toes.

"We know how Sam used to play, he was right on the edge and we love seeing that," Worpel added.

"In the past you might just go through the motions at training but we're not about that. So we're just hitting boys, hitting bodies and hitting through, and if there's a little scuffle now and again (so be it), we're all best mates off the field.

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"It's nothing too crazy. It only goes for about five seconds and some of stuff in there is pretty funny once you listen to it.

"It's good to see some fire."