BRAD Walker looks set to be fast-tracked into the Hartlepool United first-team and could even win a starting berth following an impressive pre-season.
The 17-year-old has emerged as the stand-out performer among his peer group over the course of the summer.
He played the full second half of Saturday’s goalless draw with Middlesbrough and could figure at Billingham Town this evening (kick-off 7pm).
Walker – a central-midfielder – has certainly caught the eye of manager Colin Cooper.
And, having worked with assistant boss Craig Hignett during a spell at Middlesbrough’s academy, the talented teen is 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 SportMail today.
“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.
“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.
“And that is great for Hartlepool United.”