Jake Hesketh has vowed to push on immediately after being named Scholar of the Season at the 2013/14 Player Awards night on Tuesday.
The 18-year-old beat off competition from Sam Gallagher and Josh Sims to secure the prize - sponsored by eye4TALENT - for the player who impressed the most through their all-round contribution to playing and training, which was won by James Ward-Prowse last year.
Hesketh is now using the 2012/13 winner as inspiration as he looks to make his name in Martin Hunter’s Development Squad after penning his first professional terms with the Club shortly before receiving the award.
“I signed it (the professional contract) about four hours ago,” Jake revealed. “I’m delighted. I’ve been working through my scholarship for the last two years for this moment today. It’s the start of the next stage and I’ve got to push on and try to get into the First Team – first, the Under-21s – and see where it takes me.
“The pathway is there. You’ve seen it with players like James [Ward-Prowse] and Luke [Shaw] in the year above and Sam [Gallagher] this year, who has been terrific in taking his chance when he got it. You’ve got to just take your chance and hope you can make it.”
Academy Manager Matt Hale, who addressed the public for the first time in his role on the night, hailed the fine work of the staff at Staplewood in developing youngsters such as Jake and claimed he’d been handed a wonderful group to work with.
Hale spoke of the work that goes into fashioning footballers with all-round qualities stretching from their education to creating pleasant demeanours on and away from the field.
He told the audience: “The Academy continues to flourish and produce players for our First Team. As you know, historically the Academy has produced players year on year for the Football Club, other Premier League clubs, and has also contributed significantly to international teams including the current England sides across all ages as well as the senior team.
“Today we can boast over 20 international players across the Academy age groups from Under-15 to Under-21 age groups. This year we’ve seen five players progress from being a scholar to signing a professional contract and we’ve seen five graduates from the Academy make their debut in the First Team, and a further five Under-18s to progress and become regulars in the Under-21 squad under Martin Hunter.
“The success of the Academy would not have been possible without the support and direction in recent years of Les Reed and my predecessor, Matt Crocker. I also want to make a special mention to the rest of the Academy staff. Without their hard work, dedication and professionalism, the reputation as being one of the country’s best – if not the best – simply would just not be.
“I have inherited a fantastic group of staff, who have been instrumental in the success of the scholars’ progress and the Academy as a whole. I think therefore it was appropriate to include all the staff that work across the Academy when selecting this award for scholar of the year – all departments from education, sports science and coaches who work with these players on the field have provided their input on the scholars they feel have exceeded expectations this year.
“The Academy has always prided itself on developing not just footballers, but fine young men that go on to represent Southampton Football Club in the right way on and off the pitch. The holistic approach forms the basis of our choice for scholar of the year.”