Fleetwood Town Under-18 coach Simon Wiles is pleased his players have a homegrown hero like Nathan Sheron to try to emulate.
Sheron signed a new contract this week that will keep him at the club until at least the summer of 2021.
The 21-year-old midfielder has featured 26 times for Joey Barton’s team this season.
He became the first player from Town’s category three academy to feature for the first team in their 2-0 win over Oxford United in August.
Since then, he has featured at right-back and centre-half as well as in midfield, and is in contention for tomorrow’s trip to Burton Albion.
He isn’t the only academy player to have been given a chance by Barton this season.
Defender James Hill, who signed his first professional deal last week, made his debut in August’s Carabao Cup defeat at Leicester City, with Dylan Boyle and Ryan Rydel also featuring on the bench this season.
Wiles said: “It was a really proud moment because James has been in from the U15s, when we first went category three with the academy.
“There have been a lot of coaches who have helped guide him on the way and we have to thank them for that.
“He has just kicked on massively since he has come into the full-time programme.
“Nathan Sheron is a fantastic young professional. The lads look up to him, the way he applies himself day in, day out.
“He has got his opportunity this season and has started games in League One.
“He came off the bench and it is good that the lads can look up to the likes of Shez, and I’m sure he will go on to have a successful career.”
When Barton arrived at Town over the summer, he spoke about giving youngsters a chance and building a pathway.
He had come through the youth ranks at Manchester City, with Wiles progressing from Blackpool’s academy before a succession of knee injuries ended his career in his mid-20s.
With Barton giving opportunities to younger players, Wiles believes there is a positive effect for his own youngsters.
He said: “They can see daily that lads are being asked to go and train with the first team or U23s.
“A knock on for us is that it improves the standard of training because they are champing at the bit, and they want to go over there and be called across.
“Ryan and James have got their professional contracts.
“James is a first year, so if that does not spur on the young players that they can earn professional contracts in their first year, then I don’t know what will.
“The club is moving forward, evolving all the time, and the manager we have in charge at this moment in time is giving the youth the opportunity.
“What more could you ask for? It is fantastic the lads are getting the chance to prove themselves.”
Town’s youngsters are back in action tomorrow, when they meet Preston North End in the Youth Alliance League.
Their recent winning run came to an end last time out against their FA Youth Cup conquerors Bury.
Nevertheless, Wiles – who took over from Nathan Rooney in the summer – believes that it remains all about performances rather than results.
He said: “I wanted to adapt the U18s to the way I wanted to go forward.
“We had a decent start to the season but there was a massive turning point regarding the results.
“We lost three on the spin and we had to look at ourselves individually.
“From a coaching side, it was a big challenge for myself trying to get morale back to where it should be.
“Fortunately for us, the hard work kept going on the training ground and since then I think there have only been a few defeats along the way.
“The most pleasing thing for me is the actual performance the lads are putting in week in, week out.
“I always say to the lads that if they are getting the performance right the results will come.”
It means that Fleetwood, who gained category three status in the summer of 2016, are now mixing it with established academies. However, Wiles warned that the hard work is not over yet.
He said: “Wigan are flying high. They have been up there for the last two to three years, along with Blackpool, Bury and Rochdale.
“The fact we are in and around that group is fantastic. That is the hunger we want from the players.
“The recruitment has been good this year for the current first years and that has to continue now.
“For the next crop of U16s coming through, we need to make sure we recruit right and make sure that they are challenging the second years. That is what has happened this year and is why it is such a competitive squad.
“Players are earning the right to earn their jerseys. It is fantastic that they have earned the right to train with the first team and got exposure to being in first team squads because of what we are doing with the U18s
“That is the reward. We set little targets for ourselves, and if we can finish above them we are going on the right pathway ourselves.”