Josh Heaton is taking the biggest step of his time with home-town club Preston North End after a decade of climbing through the ranks at Deepdale.
The 18-year-old central defender signed professional terms with PNE this summer and has been working with the first-team squad since their return to pre-season training last week.
Heaton is set to feature in some of North End’s friendly games over the coming weeks and pulling on the Preston shirt at senior level will be a big thrill for a player who started out at Under-7s level.
“I first played for Preston in the Under-7s and signed when I was in the Under-8s group,” Heaton told the Evening Post.
“I’ve just kept moving up through the age groups and I was buzzing when the club told me towards the end of last season that they were offering me a professional contract for this year.
“So for much of my life I’ve been involved with Preston and I’ve always been a supporter, going to a lot of games.
“To have the chance to have people watching me play is unbelievable.
“When I reported in for pre-season training I was a bit nervous because I’m the only one from my age group.
“But everyone welcomed me and it is up to me to earn the respect and trust of the others.
“This season I want to do the best I can, hopefully challenge for a place in the squad.
“If it means going out on loan to learn the game and come back better, I would do that.
“I improved a lot as a player last season and I might improve even more this season, so I’ll see how pre-season goes.
“I might play well or I might struggle a bit – I’ll take each game as it comes and try and learn from them.”
Heaton, a former pupil of All Hallows Catholic High School in Penwortham, spent time on loan with Tamworth in the Conference North last season.
His spell at the Lamb Ground was very much a learning curve and an experience the teenager thoroughly enjoyed.
“I started most of the games during my time there – we had a good run of wins and finished just outside the play-offs,” said Heaton.
“It gave me a taste of what to expect and was tough because I had only been playing Under-18s befotre then.
“In my first game I got a real battering but I slowly improved, getting a lot of encouragement from Tamworth’s manager Andy Morrell and from the staff here at Preston.
“The loan spell toughened me up – it was good to have a battle for 90 minutes.
“Some of the strikers I played against had played at a decent level before dropping down the league.
“Playing against them was an eye-opener and hopefully can stand me in good stead.”
Meanwhile, North End season ticket holders are reminded that they have until Saturday to reserve their usual seat.