Carlton defender Zac Williams is tracking towards a return to the AFL for next year's opening round in Brisbane after enduring personal heartbreak throughout the past two years.
Coach Michael Voss confirmed that the luckless 29-year-old is expected to be fully fit in February to undergo body contact work at training after being out of the game so far for 18 months.
Two separate long-term injuries have robbed Williams from appearing across 38 of a total 39 past matches for the Navy Blues.
The Wiradjuri man first went down in May 2022 against his former side, GWS Giants, with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
The repeat injury from the 2018 season kept the high-priced Blues' recruit out for 14 weeks until returning for the final home and away clash of last year's dramatic blockbuster against Collingwood in which Carlton lost narrowly and failed to secure a top-eight spot.
But amid a promising 2023 preseason, Williams was sidelined again after suffering a season-ending ACL knee injury.
While the year was spent watching his teammates from the stands progress to the last four and into the preliminary finals, the club had to wrap its arms around Williams in June after hearing the passing of his sister Samantha to a second bout of cancer.
The setbacks that are nothing new in the one-time Narrandera product's life has given the younger Williams sibling a strong-willed edge that Voss has studiously observed since his arrival at Carlton in 2022.
The former Brisbane coach, who has only coached Williams just the nine times in his two years in charge, has tipped the emotional return to football to occur in the Blues' trip to the Gabba towards seeking a measure of retribution for the finals loss to the Lions.
"He's progressing as expected," Voss told the media at a press conference on Tuesday.
"If we use the timeline of his injury as a bit of a guide, he should be back to full fitness in the first week of February.
"He will progress – he's about 10 months in.
"He will slowly start to join in the skills program throughout this next month.
"We've got the hope that rolling into the new year, he will start to feature a lot more prominently."
Williams has once stated that it wasn't until maintaining a regular presence in AFL ranks, and talking to other Indigenous players that he began to understand the importance of pride in his ancestry and how that pride could mentally strengthen his own game.
When his Aboriginal father, Steven, a tough bush rugby star, all of sudden died when Williams was just six years of age, learning about his Indigenous culture faded into obscurity, as he ran around with the wrong crowd and left his mum, Joy, at her wits end in his teenage years.
That was until his "pop", Ed Murray, a Wiradjuri Elder, who was also a part of the Stolen Generations, told Williams what their local Community had endured that then-Giants talent realised he was a part of something bigger than just a footballer.
That insightful wisdom would give Carlton fans hope that a resilient Williams will bounce back stronger than they have seen in his rare 23 appearances for the club.
"Every time I strap my wrist, I actually write 'Dad' on my wrist," Williams previously told The Age back in 2017.
"I actually take him out there with me every game.
"Everything I do now, all the hard work I put in on game day, everything I do is just for mum, for all the accomplishments I have in my life."