LFE takes a closer look at the players to make ‘The 11’ in November 2021 and why they have been included:
Harry Leeson (Bristol City)
Since returning for the second year of his apprenticeship, Harry Leeson has gone from strength-to-strength, receiving international recognition with Wales Under-19s, and signing a three-year professional contract at The Bristol City Stadium.
The talented defender has also continued to impress in the classroom, meeting his target grades and showing a real commitment towards his education.
Lead Professional Development Phase Coach, Alex Ball, has been pleased with his development and was quick to praise the 18-year-old. He told LFE: “Throughout his time with us, Harry has applied himself very well in all aspects of his scholarship. He has shown excellent progress on the pitch, playing regularly in the U23s as a first-year scholar and being rewarded with a three-year professional contract, which he has recently signed. He has also received international recognition, being called up to the Wales Under-19 squad at the beginning of this season for an international friendly tournament in Croatia.
“Away from the pitch, he has been exemplary, gaining distinctions across the board in his education. He has received positive feedback from his teachers, who have been really impressed with his work and commitment to this area of his programme. He has continued to set high standards in everything his does, as well as being a role model for the younger players in our academy.“
Ryan Howley (Coventry City)
Since securing his first professional deal with The Sky Blues and making his first-team debut in the EFL Cup against Northampton in August, Ryan Howley has continued to show excellent development on the football pitch and in the classroom. He has also earned international recognition during his apprenticeship, representing Wales Under-19s in September in an international friendly against Croatia.
Despite having to catch up on his BTEC work due to regular involvement with the senior team, Ryan has refused to let it affect his target grade of D*D*D*. Head of Education Jay Grocock was full of praise, telling LFE: “Ryan is unable to attend most lectures on Monday’s and Friday’s due to his involvement within the first team schedule. However, the work that is missed is always caught up by Ryan as he is very aware of the work ethic needed to maintain his wanted D*D*D* profile. Ryan takes a very active role in asking for recorded lectures and missed assignment work. He also attends Wednesday’s education and is a model student within the classroom.
“Regarding his actual football, Ryan has had an incredible last few months. He attended the first team pre-season training camp in Spain which resulted in him playing against other professional teams, including Sevilla. Ryan also played against Premier league outfit Wolves in a pre-season friendly for the first team. His performances have resulted in him training mostly with the first team squad and he got his debut a couple weeks ago in a Cup fixture vs Northampton town at the CBS Stadium. Above all, Ryan is a humble, intelligent young man who is continuing to work very hard and deserves all the plaudits he receives.“
Jevon Mills (Hull City)
Defender Jevon Mills has displayed excellent potential during his apprenticeship and has enjoyed a promising start to life as a second year. His assured displays in Hull City Under-18s’ defender has led to call-ups to the Under-23 team, as well as recognition on the international stage.
After receiving the call to represent Republic of Ireland Under-19’s in Marbella, Jevon went on to captain his country in just his second international appearance against Sweden. Alongside that, he has managed to dedicate time towards maintaining a high-quality portfolio of work for the SEP programme and is on track to achieve higher than his target grade.
“Jevon has made exceptional progress since leaving school. He is consistently working above his target grade and producing some outstanding work. He does this despite his footballing commitments with the under 23’s and more recently international honours,” Head of Education Dean Jennings told LFE.
“Jevon is on course to be an early submission for his SEP EPA as he has produced some excellent evidence for his portfolio. He is so articulate when it comes to him understanding himself as an aspiring professional footballer.
“If you were to know Jevon like we do here at the Academy, you wouldn’t know that he was preforming so well as a promising young centre back, as he is so grounded and humble. Whenever he puts on a shirt for this club, whether that’s with the Under-18’s, Under-23’s, or up with the first team, he gives it his all. The most noticeable thing with Jevon is that he religiously analyses his performances and is always striving to improve his game. This could be just watching back his own clips or absorbing feedback from his peers and coaches. This demonstrates his personality and leadership qualities.”
Jephte Tanga (Leyton Orient)
Second-year apprentice Jephte Tanga has enjoyed a meteoric rise in his football development in the early stages of the 2021/22 season, appearing on the first-team bench on numerous occasions before making his league debut against Southampton U21’s in the Papa John’s Trophy recently.
Alongside his football, the winger has enjoyed coaching in the club’s academy, completing an extensive number of hours working within the foundation phase. Head of Education Craig Heskey has been delighted with what he has achieved in the most recent review period:
“Jephte has continued to show progression throughout his apprenticeship, on and off the field. This season he has made numerous appearances for the first team during pre-season, playing against the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Dundee, Maidenhead & Dulwich Hamlet,” he said.
He added: “Throughout the season he has already accumulated 11 goal contributions, which include 6 goals and 4 assists from the right wing. These contributions have resulted in a few call ups to the first team where he has been named on the bench for league matches. He made his professional debut for the first team against Southampton U21s in the Papa John’s Trophy. While off the field, he has continued to exceed expectations on his BTEC course, hitting way above his targets. The Under 18’s staff are extremely pleased with the progress he is making on and off the field and the first-team staff find him a joy to have around the squad.”
LFE Regional Officer Simon Dwight also praised Jephte’s significant academic improvements, commenting: “He came into the program with low start points, only achieving GCSE at English and English Literature at Grade 4. Since then, he has been an example to the rest of the cohort with his attention to the BTEC and delivering Coaching within the club for his UEFA C coaching qualification.
“Jephte is a credit to the club and an example of the values that LOFC are expecting of the apprentices.”
Brooklyn Ilunga (MK Dons)
Since second-year apprentice Brooklyn Ilunga made his senior debut on the final day of the 2020/21 season, he has featured on three more occasions and penned his first professional contract. His recent achievements have been a reward for his tremendous hard work both on and off the football pitch.
The 17-year-old has had to overcome adversity by dealing with the loss of his father, a long-term injury, and the disruptions of Covid-19.
Academy Manager Jon Goodman revealed his pride at how Brooklyn has developed in the recent review period, telling LFE: “When I first joined as Academy Manager three seasons ago, Brooklyn immediately struck me as a player with enormous potential. As an Under-16 playing up with the scholars, he always had an impact on the game and played with passion and flair.
“Despite the challenge of an injury, the disrupted apprenticeship program and the loss of his father, Brooklyn has maintained his focus and inner drive to be successful. This culminated with a successful pre-season period with the first- team at the start of the 2021/22 campaign. Brooklyn has since made further first-team appearances and has recently been rewarded with his first professional contract. On and off the pitch, Brooklyn is a pleasure to be around and is a positive influence upon all he connects with. We are proud to work with him each day here at MK Dons.”
LFE Regional Officer Gavin Willacy mirrored Goodman’s views: “Brooklyn has always been an impressive apprentice, but this season he has excelled and really accelerated his progress. He has worked his way into the first-team squad, where he trains every day, and has made a handful of League One appearances, as well as starting games in the EFL Trophy. Throughout this time, Brooklyn has remained polite, professional, and keen to improve in every area of his life,” he said.
“At MK College he has continued the BTEC Extended Diploma where he has been achieving distinction grades, despite missing several sessions due to first-team duties. Overall Brooklyn has been a model apprentice and is an individual that younger apprentices should aspire to follow.”
James Clarridge (Nottingham Forest)
James Clarridge has displayed tremendous development on the pitch this season, showing exceptional maturity and leadership that has resulted in a call up to the England Under 18’s.
While his displays in the heart of the defence continue to catch the eye, it is also his progress in the classroom that is worthy of recognition. Currently on course to achieve a D*D in his BTEC Diploma, James’ desire to be the best he can be has impressed everybody at Nottingham Forest.
The club were quick to tie down the centre-back and offered him his first professional contract in May, but for Head of Education and Welfare James Caunt, it is his attitude since then that has stood out. Speaking exclusively to LFE, he said: “I have been delighted with the way that James has started the second year of his apprenticeship. From day one of pre-season, he has been an extremely positive and hardworking member of the group. He has recently been called up to the England Under 18 training camp for games against Norway and Russia, and the feedback from the England staff on his football and education has been very pleasing.
“James has made exceptional education progress this year in both the BTEC Level 3 Sport and the Sporting Excellence Professional. He is currently working at D*D* in his BTEC which is above his predicted target, and I am very confident he will achieve this. He has a thirst for knowledge and constantly wants to improve and challenge himself. The standard of the work he has produced has been most pleasing and the feedback from teaching staff is constantly excellent. He is a confident learner who works well in groups but also independently. He truly is a pleasure to teach.”
Dan Gifford (Portsmouth)
Following an injury-hit 2020/21 season, second-year apprentice Dan Gifford has been a role model both on and off the field this season. The hard-working striker has made a successful comeback from injury and been in fine goalscoring form for the Under-18’s, with his latest two goals coming in a 6-3 victory over Plymouth Argyle.
While the Under 18s sit at the summit of the EFL Youth Alliance Southwest, it is Gifford’s attacking performances that have captured the attention of Pompey’s first-team manager Danny Cowley in recent months, resulting in his inclusion on the first-team bench when they travelled to AFC Wimbledon in the Papa John’s Trophy in September.
In the classroom, his desire to achieve the best possible BTEC grade has been a real positive for the club’s Head of Education and Player Care John Slater.
Speaking to LFE, Slater said: “Dan has started his second year in a very positive manner, both in education and with his football.
“He has worked hard to balance the two disciplines and has continued to produce the highest standard of work for his BTEC Extended Diploma. He is determined and self-motivated towards completing his work each week.
“Following last season’s frustrating time with COVID and getting several niggling injuries, Dan has returned fully fit and has hit the goal trail once again. He has been training with the first team on some occasions following successful training sessions.“
Henry Hawkins (Queens Park Rangers)
Dominant defender Henry Hawkins has made a promising start to life as a second-year apprentice at Loftus Road, displaying leadership qualities on the field and an impressive work ethic off it.
In this review period, Henry consistently exceeded his target grade and has led by example in the SEP programme. Head of Education Stephen Quinn believes Henry has developed his self-awareness and understanding of what he needs to do to improve. He told LFE:
“This year we have seen Henry develop into a confident and mature young player, alongside this he has a high work ethic which is being seen both on and off the pitch.
“Off the pitch, Henry has worked hard over the past 12 weeks to ensure that his BTEC work is up to the high standards that he is more than capable of doing. Alongside this, he is using his learning from all aspects of his apprenticeship to help when completing his SEP assignments. These assignments are a strong indicator that he is aware of his development and understands what he need to do to improve.
“On the pitch, Henry has significantly developed as a left sided centre back over this last period. He has fully committed himself to the development programme that has been assigned to him and now, both Henry and his coaches are seeing the rewards of this. On the pitch his confidence is clear to see, he is vocal during games ensuring that his defenders and the rest of the team are all doing their roles, to the highest standard.”
Louie Arrowsmith (Southend United)
17-year-old Louie Arrowsmith has made impressive academic progress this year, working at triple D* standard on the BTEC Extended Diploma and maintaining high standards on the SEP element of the apprenticeship.
The full-back has been instrumental in the club’s progression to the First Round of the FA Youth Cup, starting every game and scoring the seventh penalty kick in the Third-Round Qualifying shoot-out win against Aveley.
BTEC Tutor Stuart Avis told LFE: “Academically, Louie has made a strong start to the year. He has been engaged in the classroom and always contributes well to discussions. The expectations are for Louie to achieve D*D*D, and he is on course to hit that target.“
Professional Development Phase Coach Dan Heath added:” On the field, Dan has been excellent so far this season. His level of performances have been in the top three in both training and games on a consistent basis. Defensively he has been strong and won his 1v1’s battles, while from an attacking point of view Louie is now showing good quality with your end product, creating goal scoring opportunities for the team.”
Alex Aitken (Stevenage)
17-year-old goalkeeper Alex Aitken has made excellent academic progress this season and has impressed the first-team coaching staff with his performances between the sticks for the Under-18s.
On course to achieve a D*D*D* in his BTEC Extended Diploma, Alex has applied maximum effort to his studies and will now be looking to maintain those high standards. Head of Education Dave Bass was full of praise for the youngster, telling LFE: “Alex is an impressive individual. He has navigated all the obstacles put in front of him by the pandemic, lockdown, remote learning etc, and has consistently produced assessment work of an excellent standard. What I admire most about Alex and highly driven students like him is that he challenges tutors and coaches like me to up our game and do a better job.”
Luke O’Reilly, Stevenage’s First-Team Goalkeeping Coach added: “I’ve really enjoyed working with Alex this season. He works hard and gives his all every day in whatever he does, which has led to his involvement in our first-team training sessions. He has a real competitive edge and wants to be as good as he can possibly be. He also soaks up information really well and is never afraid to ask questions to get better.”
Tommy Simkin (Stoke City)
First-year apprentice Tommy Simkin has excelled both on and off the field at The Bet 365 stadium. The goalkeeper has established himself as the number one in the Under-18’s side, and has, more recently, spent time on loan with Midland League Premier Division outfit Hanley Town, appearing in a number of high-profile FA Cup ties.
Alongside his on-the-field achievements, Tommy is putting in lots of effort to achieve his BTEC Diploma target grade. He has also engaged in several community initiatives, including a gardening project within the local community.
His dedication and positive attitude have been praised by staff members after he has spent time training with the Under-23 goalkeepers, and now finds himself on the radar of first-team coaches.
Head of Education Greg Biggs has been delighted with Tommy’s overall progress in this review period, saying:
“Academically, Tommy always tries extremely hard with all of his education; a quality that is instilled from his family. His work ethic across all areas is exemplary and this includes his education, whereby from an academic standpoint he may not be naturally gifted, he is so conscientious in ensuring he keeps up to date with all the work required. Currently he is working his way through the BTEC and SEP programmes and achieving well in these areas at the moment.
“On the field, Tommy has quickly established himself in the U18’s, which for a goalkeeper is very impressive. His experience on loan with Hanley Town has been invaluable for him and he is the type of person who relishes it. He is very consistent and has been involved in U23 training sessions and is also on the radar of the first-team staff. He adopts the same approach to all of the challenges faced so far and that is why he is progressing so well.”