Colin Cooper could turn to youth when the Hartlepool United’s League Two campaign kicks-off at Rochdale a week on Saturday.
Teenager Brad Walker looks likely to be involved in that fixture after impressing during pre-season.
The clearest indication that the 17-year-old midfielder is being fast tracked for the first-team came when he played the full second half of Saturday’s goalless draw with Middlesbrough and was then omitted from a young Pools team that beat Billingham 5-0 on Tuesday.
And Walker, who previously worked with assistant boss Craig Hignett during a spell at Middlesbrough’s academy, is clearly held in high regard at Victoria Park.
“Aged 17 to step across from the youth team to the first-team environment and handle it the way he has is very good – he deserves a massive pat on the back,” Cooper told the Hartlepool Mail.
“Craig knows him from his academy days at Middlesbrough. He has shown that academy background in that he can handle a football.”
“Talent gives you a foothold in the group and he has shown, without doubt, that he will be in and around the first-team from now on. He looks like a very good young player and I think he’s got a big future ahead of him.”
Walker signed for Pools in 2010 and has progressed through the youth-team ranks to the fringes of the senior set-up.
Indeed, he was an unused substitute at Doncaster Rovers last season and quickly won a place on the recent tour of Holland having impressed Cooper and Hignett at Maiden Castle.
And the Pools boss believes Walker boasts all of the attributes to become an all-round midfielder.
“He’s a very, very talented young boy but has enthusiasm as well, which you need as much as anything else,” he went on.
“After one of the games in Holland he asked me in the changing room, ‘what can I do to improve?’. I said, ‘Brad, just give yourself a pat on the back for now you did and look forward to getting better’.”
“He’s 6ft 3ins, he’s good on the ball and can run – they are really good things to work with. So there is probably a lot more to come from him in the future.”
While Walker wasn’t involved at Billingham one of his youth-team peers, Zak Boagey showed his determination to play senior football this term by hitting a treble.
The 18-year-old, who briefly tasted first-team football last term when he came off the bench against Bury in April, helped himself to a first-half hat-trick to remind his manager of his own credentials.
“It was brilliant to get in among the goals,” Boagey told the club website. “The first one was the one I needed; I think that got me going. I was desperate to score and getting the first one sorted me out and I was able to relax a bit more after that.”
“I think the second one was probably my favourite where I got through and just tried to stay calm with the goalkeeper in front of me and lifted it over him, I was pleased with that finish.”
“It’s obviously brilliant for my confidence to get three goals so now I need to build on that in the future and keep knocking on the door.”
“Overall I think pre-season has gone well; the new management team coming in have given us exactly what we needed even though it’s been very hard work, both in the heat in Holland and back here in England.”
“I’ve loved every minute of it though and now I just want to keep in and around the first team picture, keep getting on the score sheet regularly and take my chances when they come along.”