Euxton lad Alex Kenyon is the perfect example to any young wannabe footballer.
That is the view of his former manager Tony Hesketh, who worked with the current Morecambe star at both Chorley and Lancaster City.
Rejected by Everton and Preston North End while still in his teens, the former Leyland St Mary’s High School pupil could have been forgiven for feeling a little sorry for himself when he joined Northern Premier League outfit Chorley at the age of 16.
Encouraged into signing for the Magpies by his Myerscough College lecturer Phil Brown – who just so happened to be Hesketh’s right-hand man – Kenyon soon discovered his dream of becoming a professional footballer was still very much alive.
And from the very first moment he witnessed the burly frame of Kenyon charging around one of his training sessions, Hesketh was left in little doubt as to what the youngster could achieve in the sport.
So much so that when he and Brown left Victory Park to take charge of fellow NPL outfit Lancaster City, they ensured Kenyon followed suit.
At the tender age of 18, he was handed the captain’s armband and his presence in the centre of the Dolly Blues’ midfield soon began to attract admiring glances.
It was Stockport County – at the time a Conference Premier outfit – who took the plunge and signed Kenyon.
And a string of fine performances in the fifth tier of English football convinced Morecambe manager Jim Bentley that Kenyon was worthy of a professional contract.
Hesketh said: “Alex was one of four or five players, who played under me for Lancaster through the links the club had with Myerscough College and they are all now playing in the professional game.
“Alex is at Morecambe, there is Rhys Turner, who has just been signed by Oldham Athletic, Joe Bunney is at Rochdale and Danny Hattersley, who went to Stockport
“All these players played for me at the age of 16, 17 and 18 and it’s so pleasing to watch them develop knowing where they were. Most of these lads had been rejected by Football League clubs at the age of 16, but they kept on believing in themselves.
“It’s great to see these young lads, who took these knocks at the age of 16, 17, that they still continued to believe.
“It’s great to see them prove that sometimes football clubs can get it wrong.
“Alex always had good direction from his parents and then at Myerscough but he was also a good listener.
“He never gave up on his ambition of becoming a professional footballer and it’s all credit to him. He’s a great example to other young players – never give in.
“I was always of the belief that Alex was going to become a professional footballer.”
Indeed, Kenyon admits he never doubted his ability – even when virtually everybody else was telling him to pack up and do something else.
“I got released by Everton at the age of 15 and then I went to Preston for a year – but I got released again,” Kenyon said. “But never did I think I wouldn’t make it.
“I went to Myerscough College and going there really helped me.
“Even though I went there and began studying, I still never thought it was over.
“People would ask me what I wanted to do and I just kept saying I want to be a professional footballer.
“Most people would say to me, ‘Don’t you think your chance has gone?’ – but it never registered in my head that it was over.
“I just tried to keep going and I was driven to achieve my dream.”
Kenyon has nothing but praise for the help and support he received at both Myerscough College and Lancaster City. He said: “At the time I had the chance of going to Myerscough or another college but I chose Myerscough and it worked in my favour.
“My experience there was very important because we would train every morning at the college and it set me up for going into situations like I am in at Morecambe.
“I have only good things to say about Phil Brown and Tony Hesketh.
“Obviously Phil was slightly more influential than Tony with him being at both the college and the club.
“Phil took me to Chorley and then he and Tony took me to Lancaster when they took over there.
“They helped me develop as a player and a person. They turned me from a left-back into a central midfielder.
“Phil has helped me with everything really.
“Tony was a great manager. He helped me and gave me the chance to play in the Northern Premier League.
“He believed in me when he gave me the captaincy of Lancaster at the age of 18.”
Hesketh remembers well the first time he set eyes on Kenyon and was impressed with his stature straight away, despite the fact that he had barely left school.
“He was a left-back when he came to Chorley,” Hesketh said.
“I asked his parents if I could play him in the first team.
“He was only 16 – just out of school but he played in a league game and did well.
“He played at left-back right up until the end of the season – and was outstanding.
“Alex was always built like a man, even at the age of 16.
“He was very mature beyond his years – a very physical and aggressive footballer – the type of player you want on your side.
“When I left Chorley and became manager of Lancaster, I took him there with me.
“We moved him into central midfield and his development carried on apace.
“We made him captain at 18 I think and even though he was inexperienced in age, he was perfect for the role.
“I had no hesitation in making him captain.
“He was captaining a team which contained players who were a lot older.
“They had plenty of games and experienced in non-league football but he was always well respected.
“He was very competitive in every game and was certainly one of those lads who would be the first name on my teamsheet.
“Clearly he has been given some good advice in his life from his parents and more latterly from Phil Brown.
“With their guidance, you have got the complete package with Alex Kenyon.
“He’s a winner and I believe he will go from to strength.”
Although Kenyon, who is now aged 21, was wet behind the ears in terms of Football League experience when he arrived at the Globe Arena at the beginning of this season, Bentley has had no hesitation in throwing the youngster in at the deep end.
He has featured in 29 games for the Shrimps – 22 of them starts – and will be in the squad for today’s home encounter against Southend United.
Last month, he put pen to paper on a new two-year contract and he has been generally delighted with the way things have gone in his first season, even if he is a little surprised at the amount of games he has played.
“It’s been really good. Obviously it’s been a bit of a change for me coming from non-league,” Kenyon said.
“There is a big step between the two – it’s a lot harder but I’ve enjoyed challenging myself.
“I feel like I have done okay in my first season at this level.
“I am pleased with the way things have gone but I just want to keep improving in every game.”
Hesketh believes there is much more to come from his former charge and has backed him to play at a higher level than League Two
He said: “I certainly think Alex can go and play at a higher level.
“ I am sure there is more to come from him
“He will benefit from the full-time training at a professional club.
“I think you can see that already.
“ He was always well built and that sometimes hindered his pace.
“But with the full-time training, he will be able to work on his size and help his pace.
“He is the complete footballer, a superb player who will pop up with goals with his left foot.
“He will contribute in both boxes because he is a good defender.”
Hesketh, who is currently managing West Lancashire League side Fulwood Amateurs, was interested to see Kenyon receive his marching order during the Shrimps’ 1-1 draw against Accrington Stanley at the Crown Ground in January.
The former Dolly Blues boss believes the Shrimps midfielder is susceptible to picking up red and yellow cards due to his combative style of play, although he would never try to change that side of his game.
He said: “Alex does wear his heart on his sleeve and his all-action style will mean he will have a couple of weeks off during the season, I am sure.
“He likes a tackle but you would never try to take that out of his game.
“I did say to him once to watch how many big tackles he does during a game, else he will be picking up too many red and yellow cards and injuries.
“I told him to use those tackles wisely and when they are necessary.
“But you would never take that all-action style out of him.”
Kenyon is looking forward to the remainder of the season and is keen to help the Shrimps recover from a slump in form, which has seen them go on a 10-game win-less run.
“We need to pick it up a little bit,” he said.
“Hopefully we get back to winning ways soon.”