Brad Walker has left Hartlepool United to join Crewe Alexandra on a two-year deal for an undisclosed fee.
The 21-year-old was out of contract at Victoria Park and Pools boss Craig Harrison had hoped to keep Walker - who ended last season in central defence - by offering him a new deal.
But Walker rejected the offer and instead opted for a fresh start at Crewe, who have agreed a compensation fee with Pools as he’s under the age of 24.
He underwent a medical on Tuesday afternoon ahead of the deal being finalised.
Versatile Walker, who made his League Two debut when he was just 17, made 123 appearances for Pools, scoring 10 goals for the club.
Wigan Athletic and Wolves, were Walker enjoyed a trial spell in December 2015, had also been keeping tabs on Walker but Crewe boss Dave Artell persuaded the youngster to move to The Alex.
A disappointed Harrison said: "We have done everything we can to try and keep Brad at the football club.
"I met with him on more than one occasion and had some long conversations with him but it became pretty clear that he wanted to move on for a new challenge.
"He’s been at the Club for a long time but he just felt that this was an opportunity for him to put behind him the disappointment of last season by starting afresh somewhere else.
"We wish him all the best because he’s developed from a boy in to a man during his time with us so obviously he’ll be welcome back at The Vic any time."
Billingham-born Walker burst on to the first team scene at just 17 at the start of the 2013-14 campaign after starring for the Youth Team in the previous season, top-scoring from midfield.
He remained a regular in the team for much of the season and his form saw him recognised at the Football League Awards when he was named as League Two’s Apprentice of the Year
A midfielder by trade, Walker ended last season in central defence and his departure means Harrison will speed up his attempts to land defensive recruits.
With Matthew Bates stepping away from a playing role to focus on coaching the first team and reserves, it leaves just Scott Harrison as a senior central defender, though Carl Magnay and youngster Josh Nearney can also play there.
Pools have so far brought six new men into the squad as they gear up for a challenge on the National League with Scott Loach, Jake Cassidy, Blair Adams, Luke George, Jack Munns and Ryan Donaldson all arriving.
* Meanwhile, Hartlepool United's pre-season friendly with Middlesbrough Under-23s at Victoria Park has been brought forward to Friday, July 28 (KO 7.30pm).
The Teessiders had been due to visit The Vic the following day but the two clubs have now agreed to play the game on the Friday evening.
Pools say manager Craig Harrison is also working hard to add extra games to his team’s pre-season schedule.