We spoke to second year academy scholar Tom Collins after being recognised as one of 11 young footballers to have been recognised by League Football Education (LFE).
‘The 11’ acknowledges the football and academic progress of Under-18 players on apprenticeships at current or former EFL clubs - and is also designed to assess other factors, including involvement in community or charity-based initiatives.
We spoke to the goalkeeper, who signed his first professional contract back in August, following the announcement.
Tom, you’ve been named in the LFE’s 11, how much of an honour is that?
TC: I’m really proud to have to been picked in the LFE’s 11 and especially getting selected representing my home town club.
When you consider there are numerous youth teams out there, all with around eight second year scholars, for you to be one of the eleven is some achievement. Talk us through how hard you work both on and off the pitch, both in football and in education.
TC: I’m always trying to get to the next level with a positive attitude to training. I try to get better with each training session, learning from ‘keeper coaches Mussy (Paul Musselwhite) and KP (Kevin Pressman) as much as I can along with anything I can from the Rory (Watson) and Ian (Lawlor), who are the current first team keepers.
I also think it's important to do extra work alongside the normal training like extra goalkeeper sessions and doing gym work to try and be strong enough to cope with Under-23s and first team football demands.
In terms of the education side of things, I also have a day-and-a-half where I attend John Leggott College, so I’m always trying to do my best with college work also.
You’ve just touched on it slightly there, but while being a scholar you work towards a qualification at college too. Tell us about that.
TC: In college we have been doing a BTEC Diploma in Sport, which I’ve had to really knuckle down with as I’m not one that enjoys classroom work. However, I’ve worked hard and ended up coming out with a triple distinction star.
Adam Kelsey and Tom Pugh have both be named in “The 11” before in recent years and it shows the club has a good track record of producing good results both as producing first year professionals and in terms of academic results. How good have the staff been with you over your time with the club?
TC: There is so many people who have helped me along the way. Currently, it’s Mussy and KP who have both been great with ‘keeper coaching, advice and attention to detail on what to work on.
Tony Daws and Steve Thornber have pushed me on in the last two or three years - again with their coaching, experience and advice on how to be more vocal, professional and working on my weaknesses.
You were awarded your pro deal early, how have you found life since, playing more frequently for the U23s and being on the bench for the first team too?
TC: I’ve really enjoyed playing for the Under-23s when I've had the chance and competing with Adam (Kelsey) for a place in the team. I’ve absolutely loved being involved and on the bench for the first team - I think it’s been 11 times now this season. The whole experience has been quality.
Obviously, at some point, I would love to make a first team appearance when and if the coaches think I'm ready for it but just need to keep working hard and see what happens in the future.
How much are you looking forward to beyond this season when you become a first year pro? How much do you think you’ve developed over your two-year scholarship?
TC: I’m really looking forward to starting pre-season next year and having my first full season as a professional, but I do realise I have to keep working harder every year to try and get that next contract to try and have good career in football. Hopefully I can be involved with the first team, but if not I would like to go out on loan.
Over my apprenticeship, I have improved a lot. I had to mature quickly, especially as I went on loan to Barton when I was 15 playing men’s football. I’ve also been involved with the first team full time this season, being in the bench as well when required.
The biggest achievements for me though still have to be the England call-up and signing my pro deal for the club I’ve supported since a kid. I was buzzing to achieve all this at the age of 17.