Brad Crouch is starting to get used to the looks he receives when he sits in on meetings at Colliers International. He gets the same double takes when he is standing on the boundary wearing a Haileybury College spray jacket. That's not Brad Crouch, is it? Yes, it is the Brad Crouch.
The 28-year-old has stacked his plate in 2022, but it's working. Crouch has returned to his very best across the first nine rounds, averaging 27.9 disposals, 6.6 tackles, 6.1 clearances – ranked No.1 at St Kilda for all three categories – and 11.7 contested possessions.
Football is his main priority, and always has been, but Crouch has found better balance with his life this year, impressing those inside the football department at RSEA Park with his personal development away from the club.
Crouch still has two years to run on the four-year deal he signed when he moved from Adelaide to St Kilda at the end of 2020, but the St Patrick's College product knows the end can come fast if you don't prepare for life after football well in advance.
That is why he spends Wednesdays or Thursdays learning the ropes of commercial real estate at Colliers. And it is part of the reason why he spends Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings at Haileybury College coaching the Year 10 side, where Essendon great Matthew Lloyd runs the First XVIII program.
Crouch is also building a house in Chelsea and preparing to marry his fiancée in December, packing plenty into a year that could include a deep September run if St Kilda continues its rise across the back nine of 2022.
"I've been pretty busy away from footy this year. I'm doing one day a week at Colliers industrial real estate with my best mate from Ballarat, Nick O'Brien, who played a little bit of footy at Essendon. I go in the office with him and sit in on a lot meetings and follow him around a little bit. Hopefully over the next three or four years I can progress so that I'm ready to go once I finish footy. That’s at the top of my list at the moment. I'm really enjoying it and it's working well," Crouch told AFL.com.au this week.
"I'm coaching the 10As at Haileybury and that’s great fun. The boys there are great to deal with. It keeps me busy. On the Saturday just gone I went and coached the boys then played in the afternoon. I find it pretty refreshing because I can go and see some people I don’t know that well and it keeps my mind off footy a little bit. Then I can go away and still play, otherwise you just wait around all day waiting to play. I can't sit still at the best of times; I need to be busy."
Last year didn’t go to plan for St Kilda. But despite some external criticism around the trade, Crouch finished equal-fifth in the Trevor Barker Award last year after playing 20 games in his first season back in Victoria, after moving to West Lakes as a 17-year-old via the 2011 mini draft.
But this year is different. The criticism of St Kilda's list management strategy has disappeared. The Saints have been one of the more impressive sides of the season and Crouch has been a key figure behind the rise.
"I thought I had a solid year last year and I'm building on that this year. When you come to a new team it can take a while, but I'm starting to really feel comfortable here," he said.
With dual All-Australian and best and fairest winner Jack Steele undergoing shoulder surgery last Monday, Crouch is confident St Kilda has enough quality and depth to cover the loss of the skipper, with Seb Ross, Jack Sinclair and Jade Gresham all firing right now.
"Speaking to Jack, he is pretty upbeat about it. We've got a bye in there as well, so he'll miss the one less week because of that. But we are pretty well equipped to deal with his loss," he said.
"As good of a player as he is; we've got a lot of depth in our midfield at the moment; we've got some players at Sandringham who are in some really good form. He is going to be a big loss but we hope we can cover him."
Now more than 18 months on from the career shaping decision to depart the Crows, Crouch says a key factor behind his desire to head to Moorabbin was the lure of being part of a drought breaking premiership. St Kilda hasn’t won a flag since 1966, rarely coming close to ending the longest current drought in the game.
"It was an interesting time. I felt that towards the end of my last year I was still toing and froing whether I was going to stay in Adelaide. I love Adelaide as a place and my partner is from Adelaide as well, so I've got a real connection to Adelaide. We'll probably move back there eventually; that’s the plan anyway," he said.
"The Saints were a great option for me. I loved their story that they hadn’t won a premiership in a long time – that really connected to me. There were a lot of people from Ballarat, where I'm from, so I had that little connection to the Saints. It all ended up OK."
It is currently Melbourne – who are on a 16-game winning streak – and Brisbane then a gap between the next best sides in the AFL. St Kilda is in that chasing party and could be there when the whips are cracking in September, not that Crouch is daring to dream just yet.
"We are trying not to think too far ahead. We've got two more games until the bye now and we're pretty focused on keeping it week-to-week at the moment because there is no real point in thinking too far forward," he said.
"We had a pretty up and down year last year and we can see what happens with momentum in the AFL at the moment. A lot of sides are going up and down a little bit. We are just trying to play as consistent footy as we possibly can and play as much team first footy as we can."
For now, Crouch is busy preparing for his next meeting at Colliers, busy plotting selection decisions for Haileybury, busy readying himself to face his old mates at Adelaide Oval tonight. Turns out the ball magnet from Ballarat enjoys being busy.