Matt Grimes, Ollie Watkins, Christy Pym and Dean Moxey. What do they all have in common?
It’s well known that these four players, like many others at Exeter City and throughout the Football League, have come through City’s academy.
Some of these players are in the academy from the age of eight years old, progressing through the age groups until they reach the final hurdle before the first team. The under 18s.
Every season a new crop of under 16s are offered two-year scholarships by the club, joining up with the under-18 squad for their first taste of full-time football. These two years are spent playing in the EFL Youth Alliance League, trying to get as far as possible in the FA Youth Cup and aiming for the ultimate goal, the sought after prize, a professional contract.
This season’s under-18s recently saw off Bournemouth 2-0 in their final game of the South West Division of the EFL Youth Alliance, confirming a third place finish. This means that the young Grecians have qualified for the Merit League Division One, which brings together the top six teams from both the South West and South East regions.
Under the guidance of manager Chad Gribble, City will be looking to challenge at the top end of the Merit League and banish the demons of last season, after Gillingham beat City to top spot by just a point.
In this year’s FA Youth Cup, Exeter beat local rivals Plymouth Argyle 3-2 in the first round thanks to a hat-trick from striker Lewis Wilson. Unfortunately, a defeat at Stevenage in the next round cut short the Grecians’ campaign.
The under-18s impressive progress in the Youth Alliance League hasn’t gone unnoticed by first team boss Matt Taylor, and first team opportunities have come for some of the players. Skipper Will Dean has started in all three of City’s Checkatrade Trophy home matches, playing in both his natural centre-midfield position and at centre-back. Creative midfielder James Dodd has also made appearances off the bench while several under-18s have been involved in the Grecians’ Under-23 Premier League Cup campaign.
Three of this season’s under-18s – James Dodd, Will Dean and Jordan Dyer – have already signed professional contracts with the club, proving City’s commitment to bringing academy players into the first team.
Playing on Saturday mornings at the Cliff Hill training ground, the under-18s now enter a crucial part of their season as they prepare to battle for the Merit League title whilst also fighting for their individual professional deals.
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