Preston North End's Jordan Storey refects on his rise up football pyramid ahead of Aston Villa trip
Jordan Storey is proof of how quickly fortunes can change for a footballer in a relatively short period of time.
On Saturday, the Preston North End central defender took his first steps in the Championship.
After three appearances in the League Cup, PNE boss Alex Neil felt the time was right for Storey to face West Bromwich Albion.
Part of a three-man backline, Storey had Albion front pair Jay Rodrigeuz and Dwight Gayle for company in the Deepdale clash.
This time last year, he was on loan at Dorchester Town from Exeter City in the Southern Premier Division.
Almost 12 months to the day from facing the Baggies, Storey had played in a 3-3 draw against Farnborough.
His upward push began when Exeter recalled him from Dorchester and put him in their first-team squad.
A run of regular football in the Grecians side did not come until February but it was one which ended at Wembley in the League Two play-off final.
North End came calling for his services in June and he made the move.
It has been a lot to take in for Storey, who turned 21 a month ago.
But he seems to have taken it all in his stride and has adopted a level-headed approach to the rise up the football pyramid.
Storey said: “If you’d asked me about playing in the Championship this time last year, I would have laughed. I think it was the eighth tier I was playing in. So to have done what I have in the meantime and now be in the Championship is a bit of a dream come true.
“I’ve taken it all in my stride and I’m just looking to continue developing.”
At first glance, it might seem that Storey was a late developer, in terms of only getting his chance in Exeter’s side at the age of 20.
However, he did not come through the academy route from a young age.
“I didn’t actually join Exeter until I was 18,” said Storey.
“But I wouldn’t change anything in terms of how I got here, I’m very proud of it.
“I was playing local league football back home and that was a big help in terms of me coping with the physical side of the game.
“The club I played for knew someone who had a link with Exeter and he got me a trial with them.
“It all went from there and here I am playing for Preston in the Championship.”
Storey’s PNE debut came against Morecambe in the first round of the League Cup in August.
He then featured in the next round as North End beat Leeds 2-0 at Elland Road.
Last Tuesday, there was a third helping of League Cup football for him in the penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough.
Then he kept his place for the visit of the Baggies.
Said Storey: “Those three cup games gave me a taster of what it is all about.
“Playing against Leeds and Middlesbrough, two Championship teams, was good.
“They both fielded teams with good Championship players and gave me an idea of what I might face in the league.
“If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect to have played even four games at this stage.
“It’s been great for me and I’m just looking to build from here.
“On Saturday I learned plenty from playing against the strikers I did.
“You realise how clever these players are on the pitch, how a little movement can make such a difference.
“I could see how they had played in the Premier League and why they are now at the top of the Championship and doing well this season.
“I’ve learned a lot from playing in that game.”
For Storey and his PNE team-mates, a trip to Villa Park to face Aston Villa is next on the agenda.
With North End without a league win since the opening day of the season and having lost four on the bounce, the trip to the West Midlands is of huge importance as they look to give their campaign a reboot.
“It hasn’t been good so far,” said Storey.
“I honestly think that one result could change our season and get us going.
“That’s easy to say but I think we have what it takes.
“I don’t think we have been playing badly but we haven’t got the results.
“Things have gone against us with some of the goals we have conceded – the second one on Saturday which went in off Ben Davies’ head was so unlucky.
“We haven’t had much luck but need to change that and we are working hard to do that.
“I thought we should have had a penalty on Saturday, had it been given it could have been a game-changer.
“That’s gone now and our focus is on Aston Villa.
“They are a massive club with a great stadium, the sort of venue everyone wants to play at. We need to go there and get something.”