Zack Kotwica has a big future at Cheltenham Town according to Ken Willetts, the man who first brought him to Whaddon Road almost a decade ago.
Kotwica, who is now in the second year of his apprenticeship, has earned a squad number for this season after impressing first-team boss Mark Yates during pre-season.
And Willetts who worked for the club during their early days in the Football League as they established a Centre of Excellence, believes the 17-year-old and his youth-team peers have a realistic chance of making the grade with the Robins.
“It’s very satisfying seeing these boys coming through now because we first worked with them ten years ago,” Willetts told the Gloucestershire Echo. “The first group we worked with at Under 9s had players like James Fawke, Ethan Moore and Jack Wood in it.”
“I remember Jack Wood scoring five goals in one match during a six-a-side tournament, beating teams single-handedly. He was probably the best player we saw until Zack came along,” Willetts said.
“We spotted him playing at Matson in a tournament and I remember John Hamilton came running over and said, ‘You need to see this kid, he’s unbelievable’.”
“Zack was doing things then that 10 or 11-year-olds weren’t doing and it was clear he had something special.”
Kotwica was interesting clubs higher up the food chain but geography and transport proved an issue.
“Zack would never be at Cheltenham if it wasn’t for John driving him around,” continued Willetts. “He didn’t have any transport, but John used to pick him up from White City in Gloucester and he virtually adopted him. That was a particularly good age group and it’s always interesting to see how the boys do as they come through the system.”
“I sent Zack a message after Saturday’s game against Gloucester because I heard he went on and did well. It’s great with him being a local lad and when I’ve seen him given 20 minutes here and there in the first team he hasn’t looked out of place.”
“He is a level-headed enough lad and he has the best people around him to learn from, so I am sure he can make it.”
Kotwica spent time on work experience with Bishop’s Cleeve last term and impressed and Willetts believes that an early taste men’s football will have a positive long term effect on the youngster.
“Zack went to Bishop’s Cleeve last year and he would have learned as more during that time and all the other games against other youth teams,” said Willetts. “Nothing else can prepare you for playing against a fully grown man for the first time, who knows how to conduct himself on the football pitch.”
“It’s better if they go out and get experience around about that level. Cheltenham are not sending them out to be best player, it’s so they are beaten up and take whacks, which helps with their physical development.”