Exeter City have handed professional contracts to three members of their Under-18s squad following another successful year under the stewardship of coach Chad Gribble.
Despite the youth season being cut short by the COVID-19 outbreak, second-year scholars, Lewis Wilson, Louis Morison and Cheick Diabate had all done enough to impress the Academy staff and be given with the chance to join manager Matt Taylor and the first-team squad from next season.
The Grecians’ Academy began the important process before the country went into lockdown, when the under-18s hadn’t missed any of their fixtures at that point. Coach Chad Gribble explained how Matt Taylor, as well as the Academy staff, all played a crucial role in the final verdict.
“We are extremely lucky to have very good decision making process put in place. We are thankful that the manager and his coaching team are heavily involved, and that they give a large amount of their attention and time in looking at the young players.
“All of the players are given time to train with the manager and the first team so he can see how they are in his environment, and after everyone has made an assessment, we make a collaborative decision on who receives the good news.
“We have based the decisions on what the players have shown us over the past two years, and on that potential to be a success. The three boys have all showed signs that they have developed, and that they can continue to improve into something that the first-team will be able to use.
“This is a stressful time for the boys, with all of them going through an educational process too, so we thought it was right that we let them know the outcomes of the decisions right away to relieve the pressure and stress that they were going through. We are thankful we could give the players the news face-to-face prior to the lockdown. There is no better way of delivering the news.”
City’s under-18s had been performing at a high level throughout this campaign, however, there is no doubt that this will be a real highlight of the season for the ECFC Academy, and they’ll be hoping the trio will be able to carry on pushing themselves to be their absolute best and forge a successful footballing career out of it.
Lewis Wilson is a centre-forward who has been at the club since he was nine. Lewis was top goalscorer for the under-18s this season, which mirrored his love and ability of finding the back of the net throughout his Academy journey. He has suffered his ups and downs with the club, but has matured into a fine person and player.
Louis Morison captained the under-18s this term after nine years of development with the club. Louis was a talented cricketer too, but chose to pursue football, transforming himself into a versatile and dependable player. The Academy are now hoping he can take those important values he has learnt in his time with the club into his professional career.
Cheik Diabate came into football late after signing with Stevenage at 15-years-old. After suffering rejection there, he was noticed at the EFL Exit Trials, for not just his footballing attributes, but his mental and physical side too. Cheick has continued to display those traits throughout his two years at the Grecians, and his bounce-back ability has helped him develop great qualities and a superb character.
The three players would typically join up with the first-team training group from next season, and be integrated with the under-23s programme which runs alongside their schedule. They will be fully at the manager's disposal, and it is now ultimately up to them to make an impression and to push for a place in a matchday squad.
However, for all of the good news to come out of the Academy regarding new contracts, unfortunately there were two members of the youth side who weren’t offered professional deals.
Theo Simpson and Jack Stafford have both played integral parts to the under-18s set up for the past two years and they will complete their respective scholarships this summer.
Theo invested plenty of time and energy into his football, regularly travelling up from Cornwall for training and playing. He suffered two bad injuries during his time at the club, so to get back to his high levels is a remarkable feat in itself. His hunger and desire should stand him in good stead with whatever he decides to do in the future.
Jacack came down from the north to sign a scholarship with the Grecians following his release from Burnley. But despite the centre-back suffering his first bump in the road, he took the big step of moving into a new environment with a new group of people. Commenting on the defender, Chad Gribble added, “The biggest compliment I could give Jack is that in the two years I have worked with him, I’ve seen him grow from a boy into a man”.
The duo will be fondly remembered for their performances last season during a successful league campaign and the run to the Youth Alliance Cup final. Gribble paid tribute to the two players for their time and commitment to the club.
“Firstly they are both top young lads. I’d like to think they learned some key attributes as footballers and as men during their time here. They are both people I would like to stay in touch with if they ever need advice or guidance. I thoroughly enjoyed working with them and wish them all the best in the future."