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Five academy players set to put pen to paper on pro contracts at Exeter City

27 April 2017

Archie Collins, Max Smallcombe, Ben Seymour, Lewis Williams and Alex Hartridge all agree terms

Five young players at Exeter City’s Academy will soon put pen to paper on their first professional contracts.

Second-year scholars Archie Collins, Max Smallcombe, Ben Seymour and Lewis Williams have all agreed professional terms, while teammate Alex Hartridge will also sign a pro contract. 

Academy manager Simon Hayward was delighted that the young players’ hard work had been recognised. However, he also he added that he was pleased that the two other second-year scholars who were not offered pro deals at St James Park both have positive destinations to go to. 

Cameron Hargreaves has been offered professional terms at Bristol Rovers, following a successful trial with them, while Max Gillard will be leaving Exeter City to study at Hartpury University having got himself on their football programme. 

Of the players who have been offered deals, Max Smallcombe, is perhaps, the most well-known to City fans as he has already made a first team appearance for the club. 

He played the full 90 minutes of the Grecians 4-2 defeat away at Oxford United in the Checkatrade Trophy back in August. Smallcombe, who captained the under-18s to the league title this season, has also been capped for Wales at under-16, under-17 and under-19 level.

Archie Collins is a versatile player, who can play up front, just behind the striker, wide right, wide left or in central midfield. Like Smallcombe, he has also trained with the first team this season on a few occasions and made appearances for the club in under-21 and reserve matches. 

“We would like to think that a number of the boys coming out of the academy are versatile,” said Simon. “Archie would, certainly, fit into that bracket. He got a sniff of training with the first team earlier on this season and he has probably had – along with Max Smallcombe – the most opportunities for appearances in the under-21s and the reserves and has done quite well in some of those games. 

“Max was the under-18s captain this season and his character and personality is absolutely top drawer. He has had an extremely professional mindset to his football for the last four years, if not longer. He is very dedicated and very committed and the type of young man who does whatever he is asked and does what ever it takes to develop and improve himself as a footballer. 

“There has been a huge commitment from him and his dad, who for a number of years has driven up from Bodmin, Cornwall. It is not dissimilar from Archie as he is from the other side of Bridgwater, but I think Max has probably travelled further than most. 

“He is a central midfield player, who is a very trustworthy young man and there are hopes he’ll go in and earn the trust of the first team staff and the first team players very quickly.”

Ben Seymour – who had a spell on loan at Bodmin Town in the South West Peninsula League towards the end of this season – has also earned a pro deal. 

“Every player is different and what they need for their development can be different, but that was a good opportunity when the chance arose for him to get some game-time at Bodmin,” said Simon. “I think it has added another string to his bow. He was on a very good track and he had given himself a very good chance of earning a pro contract prior to that but he has definitely shown that he can compete in men’s football. 

“He had a positive impact down at Bodmin. He has been involved in setting up some goals and scoring some goals. Ben is an interesting one in that we offered to bring him into the academy as an under-9. 

“We first saw him out at our six-a-side tournament at Feniton but, between him and his parents, they decided that they didn’t want to take up the opportunity at that point. However, we managed to keep tabs on him over the years and he came into the club through our development centre programme as an under-14. 

“He was a central midfield player when he came back to us at 14, but by the under-16s he had made the move to playing further forward. He has led the line really, really well this season. 

“He is probably one of, if not the best, under-18 centre forwards during my time here at seeing an opportunity to run in behind. He has had a good season, scored some goals and got some experience at Bodmin and earned that pro deal.”

Alex Hartridge was a not a second year scholar at the academy – having chosen to turn down a scholarship deal and continue to study his A-levels at his school. However, Simon was impressed with how he managed to combine those studies with training in the under-18s. His development continued at a good rate and that saw him get offered a pro deal. 

“I am really pleased for Alex,” said Simon. “It is not very often that lads turn down scholarship opportunities here and stay in education, but we were fully supportive of him doing that. 

“That was what he felt, and his parents felt, was right for him. There may have been some in the years since, but there have not been many that have gone down that route. The one name that springs to mind is George Friend. 

“George did the same and all credit to Alex he has found a way. Even though he has trained less than the others, he has been able to get himself up to as much training as possible and he has developed as much, if not more, than anyone in the last 12 months. 

“So, fingers crossed, he finishes off his academic year well and passes his A-levels. He has set himself up really nicely to have an opportunity within football, but obviously, with some very good qualifications to fall back on if football doesn’t work out. 

“He has played left-back and left-sided centre-half predominantly and in the last nine games he has been out on loan at Truro City. They have got one game left but when we got him that loan move there were 10 games he could play in and so far he has started in all nine, which tells its own story.”

Lewis Williams, who joined the academy following the closure of Yeovil Town’s youth setup, is a goalkeeper, who having also played outfield in his early days at Exeter City, is good with the ball at his feet. 

Simon says the young shot-stopper has benefited a lot from working the with first team goalkeeping coach Mel Gwinnett, as well as academy GK coach Richard Brown. 

“When Bobby (Olejnik), Christy (Pym) and Hammy (James Hamon) go out with Mel (Gwinnett), Lewis is involved in almost all of those sessions,” said Simon. “Then, if there are days when the under-18s are training, but the first-team are not around, that is when Rich Brown will fill the gap and step out and work with Lewis. However, because of the nature of a goalkeeper he would have spent more time with the first team players than anybody else in the under-18s.  Much like Christy, who used to play outfield for Westexe but in goal for Exeter as a young player, Lewis has some positive attributes as a goalkeeper because of his experience on the pitch.  He makes good decisions, he understands the game and he is good at distributing the ball, short and long, out from the back.”

Speaking about Cameron Hargreaves and Max Gillard, Simon added: “Max is the one player who has not been offered professional terms but he has got himself set up at Hartpury University. 

“He has been a consummate professional in his approach to the two years as a scholar and a really valuable member of a squad that won the league this season. I am delighted that he has got a positive destination to carry on his education as well as his football at Hartpury.”

“I’m also delighted for Cameron,” added Simon. “Cameron is a fantastic young man, unbelievably hard working and dedicated and it is always difficult to feel like that we are not the best place for a player to develop and progress. 

“We would like to keep everybody, but the nature of the game just doesn’t allow that. So we felt we did the right thing in talking to him and his parents a little bit earlier than we might have, to say that we weren’t sure it was going to happen for him. 

“We couldn’t be happier that the door has opened up for him at Bristol Rovers and he has gone and taken that opportunity there. We kind of had an inkling, because he is a good player, that he might go and do well enough and we are really, really pleased that he has earned that opportunity at Rovers.” 

However, Simon added that for the others the hard work starts now. Although they work at a club where young players are given a chance, they are going to have to earn that opportunity.

“It can be a difficult transition and you’d love everybody to make the transition as quickly as Jordan Moore-Taylor or Matt Grimes did, to earn the trust of the manager so they can make their debut within six or seven weeks of next season,” said Simon. 

“The model of the club here – particularly the way Tis works in trusting young players and giving young players an opportunity – is that if they do well enough and earn that trust then there is a chance that door opens. 

“However, more often than not, it takes a little bit longer than that. I think the average age of a debut across the country is 21 and that only seems to be rising as more and more money comes into the game and more and more foreign players come across to England. 

“It is tougher for young English players to break through generally across the four divisions than it would be in any other country in the world. 

“So we are always delighted as academy staff to work at a club and to work with a manager (Paul Tisdale) who is so positive about our young players. And, even if they are not quite ready to break into the first team within six weeks, we have got a group of first team staff who are very good at helping these young players develop, progress and make that transition. 

“I think Ollie Watkins was a pro for about 18 months before he earned the trust and earned the right to make his first team debut and in the 18 months since he has, obviously, done very well. 

“So, whether it is early next season, or whether it takes two or three years, we are hopeful that there are some more good players in this group that can help the first team to be successful.”


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