The Newport County AFC academy is the future of the club and following in the footsteps of Regan Poole and Aaron Collins is what the boys of all age grades are dreaming about.
There are various different facets to the academy setup at Newport County AFC, with all of them focused on helping the participants achieve their ultimate goal of making it as a professional footballer.
Here, find out more about some of the stars of the future that you may shortly see wearing the black and amber of the club.
Lewis Collins (far right), Callum Jones (far left), and Ioan Evans (second from the left) – U18 Academy
The U18 academy at Newport County AFC has had some astonishing success over the past two seasons.
In 2016/17, the Young Exiles won the EFL Youth Alliance Merit League 1 having gone the entirety of the campaign unbeaten. Last year, the side again put together a successful run of results alongside a superb run in the FAW Youth Cup.
But one of the main successes last year came alongside the fact that six players within the U18 academy setup made their competitive debuts for the first-team across the campaign.
Aged just 16 years and 255 days, Jay Foulston became the third youngest player to ever feature in a competitive fixture for the Exiles when coming off the bench against Southend United, only trailing behind Regan Poole and Steve Aizlewood.
On the final day of the season, Momodou Touray – who alongside Foulston signed a professional contract with the club in April – also made his debut for the club when coming on as a substitute with eleven minutes to go against Carlisle United.
And in the CheckaTrade Trophy tie with Cheltenham Town at Rodney Parade on 7th November 2017, a further four academy stars were afforded a chance in the first-team.
Tom Hillman, Lewis Collins and Evan Press all started on that occasion, while Owen Taylor came off the bench.
Collins said: “We lost the game against Cheltenham, but it was a very tight game at 2-1. It was still a great game for me and a couple of the younger boys to be involved in.
“It was great of the gaffer to give us the experience because it let us know what professional football is like.
“It was a full-strength Cheltenham team but in a 2-1 loss against a full-strength Cheltenham team – we still came away from the game with a lot of experience and we came away and actually thought that we did a job in the game.
“It was more a game where we could express ourselves and we could come out more – it was against good opposition as-well which made it a tougher challenge but when you came off the pitch you felt so much better after it.”
The U18s academy is currently coached by a County legend in Byron Anthony – a role he has held since early 2016.
“Byron Anthony is great, to work with him is an honour,” added Collins.
“He was a great player and he’s a great coach as-well. He’s got my back all the time and I couldn’t ask for a better coach really.
“Mike Flynn and Wayne Hatswell are always in discussion with Byron and Danny Elliott the coach. They do talk about us youth players and ask how we are getting on.”
Collins has already had the taste of making his debut for the first-team and can count on the advice of his brother and ex-Exile Aaron Collins should he aspire into the matchday squad again in the upcoming season.
But the 17-year old is keeping his feet firmly on the ground for the time being and is focusing on his role with the academy for the immediate future.
He added: “I feel like I could push into the first-team if I was given the opportunity, but I’ve just got to work hard in the academy, prove my point and hopefully get my chance on the bigger stage and prove my point there as-well.”
Having received a call-up from Wales U19s in the 2017/18 campaign, Collins went on to describe his ambitions for his career as the following:
“The dream in football is the national squad with my brother. The dream would always be to play for my nation with my brother but just to be on the same pitch as him – even better if it was in the same team – would be a dream come true really.
“Every time you represent your country, the pride you get is just amazing. Putting on that jersey just makes you feel like you are on top of the world. You feel great about everything.”
Sonny (Second from right) – U14s
Sonny was chosen to take part in the 2018/19 photoshoot last week following a superb campaign with the U13s last year, a season that ended with Sonny picking up the player of the year award.
Described by his coach as a player capable of chipping in with several important assists and goals, Sonny has excelled in both a forward and central-midfield role, becoming a player that others around him look up to.
He said: “I wasn’t expecting the award last year because there are obviously some good lads in the team, but I was really happy to get player of the year.”
The games against Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur last season allowed Sonny to watch some of his idols within the game and he certainly took a lot of encouragement from those meetings against stellar opposition.
He continued: “I went to the two Spurs games at Wembley and Rodney Parade. It was a wicked experience and I really liked watching Dele Alli, he’s a very clinical player in his games.
“My target from watching those games is obviously to improve upon my 1v1s, track back and be more box-to-box in the centre-of-midfield role.”
Mike Flynn has already bolstered his central-midfield options during the summer transfer window and Sonny hopes to learn from one of those new additions next season.
He added: “I like to play in the centre-of-midfield role because you can attack and defend. I like to tackle, shoot and put passes through.
“I’d really appreciate it if I got some tips from Andrew Crofts on how to become a professional footballer. I’d also like to get some tips from him on how to look up, spread the ball out wide and put some balls through to the centre forwards.
“I would like to think about potentially making the first team one day. It would be a great opportunity if I did get to play in the first team. If it comes then that’s the dream isn’t it to be honest, playing football.”
James – U8s
James was chosen to partake in the official photoshoot for the 2018/19 campaign having made a big impression in the club’s youngest age grade – winning the player of the year award in the U7s.
Described as an “outstanding” player by his coach, James was consistent in both training and matches last year and has developed his game tremendously since joining the team – already being confident with both feet.
Speaking about his first season in the academy setup, James said: “The team always run their heart out every week for each other, the club and the fans.
“My best memory from being involved with Newport County AFC is getting player of the season for the U7 Academy and being presented with it on the pitch at the Stevenage home game last season.
“It was the best day of my life.”