FROM starring with the youth team at Hartlepool United to training with the cream of the crop of young English talent – it has been quite a year for Brad Walker.
This time last season the 17-year-old midfielder was well on his way to finishing the campaign as the top scorer in the youth set up at Pools.
Fast forward to today and the highly-rated teenager has since signed his first professional contract, firmly established himself as a first team regular and has been called up to two England Under-18 training camps.
He was also on stand-by for the U-18’s last match, a comfortable 4-0 win over Belgium, but it clashed with Hartlepool United’s Sky Bet League Two trip at Southend United.
A game in which Walker popped up with a stunning strike, chesting the ball down on the edge of the area before executing a sublime volley into the top corner of the net to secure a point for Pools.
Walker received his first call-up to join the national junior set-up back in November and spent two days training at the FA’s National Football Centre at St George’s Park, in Burton.
His performances impressed coach Neil Dewsnip so much that he returned for a second training camp in January.
The powerful midfielder is delighted with how things have gone on a personal level so far this campaign.
And he firmly believes training with the best young English players can only help boost his game further.
Although he didn’t mind missing the Belgium match too much after banging in one of the goals of the season at Southend.
“I’m glad they did well with a good win over Belgium.
“But I’d much rather have been with the first team at Pools,” said Billingham-born Walker.
The overall experience of training alongside the finest teenagers from all four divisions has been a “quality” one for Walker.
The popular teen added: “It is good to still be in and around the England recognition and I am really happy with that and the way it has gone this season.
“It has been quality to meet up with England and the way you are treated is a great experience, for everyone that is called-up.
“It is definitely helping my game, with the high standard and fast tempo.
“That can only help my performances in the first team at Hartlepool United.
“It is very good to be called-up and it is great to be in and around it.”
His Pools gaffer has been keen to keep the pressure off the young shoulders of Walker and Colin Cooper has, at times, called for the supporters to be patient with the prodigal talent, who has scored twice in 29 appearances in his first season as a pro.
Both goals – the other an equally stunning strike against Burton Albion at Victoria Park in December – have been of the highest order.
And Cooper admits the physically imposing teen is an “exceptional” talent with the tools needed to have a long and successful career in the game.
After impressing on the pre-season tour to Holland, Walker, who turns 18 in April, started the season well but lost his place through an ankle injury.
He returned to the first team over the festive period, where he has remained ever since, currently pushed out wide to the right in a diamond formation.