Carlisle United can confirm that academy defender Max Kilsby has joined Gabe Breeze, Jack Ellis, Sam Fishburn and Scott Simons in the pro ranks with a first-year professional contract offer (with an option) at the end of his successful two-year scholarship spell.
Kilsby, 19 in October, joined the academy as an under-15 and has been used on the left-hand side of the back line in the youth set-up, and in a series of reserve games.
Fellow second-years Josh Barnett, Dylan Garvey, DJ Taylor and Charlie Watt have been released on completion of their respective scholarships.
Manager Paul Simpson said: “I said the other day that it’s always tough when talking to scholars who haven’t made it through, because you know how hard they’ve all worked and how much they want that to carry on.
“It isn’t a nice side of the job, but they leave with our best wishes. The academy staff have spoken to them, and they know there is support here at the club if they need it going forward.
“With Max, he’s impressed me when I’ve seen him and, having spoken at length with the academy coaching staff, we feel there’s potential for a player we can work with.
“I know it gets said a lot when these offers are made, but the hard work for all five of them starts now. Some of them have been around the first-team environment and have made their debuts, and they need to push for more of the same.
“It is good for the club that five of the current crop of second years have made it through. All five are there on merit, and now it’s up to them to continue to strive to develop and improve, and for us to give them an environment within which they can do that.”
Youth boss Mark Birch said: “It’s the best and worst day of the year every year and it’s one of those things you can’t take lightly.
“You don’t sleep well until it’s done because it’s always on your mind, and you know you’re breaking dreams for some of these lads.
“They’re only young lads at the end of the day with dreams of being a footballer. When you speak to some of them they still have aspirations, and some of them realise it isn’t for them.”
“It’s the highs and lows of the job,” he added. “All of the lads who are leaving us have played their part this season.
“They’ve all had their good moments and moments that haven’t gone for them, but that’s part and parcel of being a footballer.
“The path they go on after they leave us is totally up to them. They can either kick on and keep fighting or they go down a different path in their working life.
“We want to see them do well in whatever they go on and do. We’ve worked with them every day for two years, so we all want the best for them.
“Sometimes we fall out or disagree with them, sometimes you have to pick them up and sometimes you’re really proud of them, but they’re all young lads who are chasing a dream.
“Unfortunately it can’t happen for everyone, but if they come back and prove us wrong we’ll be proud as punch.”
On the offer for defender Max Kilsby, he commented: “Max was delighted when we told him he’d be getting a contract.
“He’s such a well-rounded man now, I can’t call him a lad anymore because he conducts himself really well around the place.
“He speaks to people well and he’s very mature. His mum and dad should be really proud of him because he’s worked really hard.
“He was released by Newcastle at the age of 14, which is his hometown club. I think him and his family still have season tickets, so that will have been a big knock for him.
“For him to come here and work the way he has at under-15 level has shown the sort of person he is. He’s worked hard and ended up with a pro contract, so I’m delighted for him.”
Explaining more on the type of player he is, he told us: “He can play at left back or centre back. He’s got a good left foot, which is his strength, he’s a good defender and he doesn’t get flustered.
“I think it’s good at his age to have a couple of positions he can play in because he can give options to a team.
“He’ll end up sticking to a position later in his career, but I think it’s important for him to be able to play in a couple of positions now.”
And the five from this season’s batch join Lewis Bell, Taylor Charters and Josh Dixon as graduates in the current squad who have made it through the club’s system and into the first-team environment.
“I’m not saying it’s easy, but the easiest part for all of these lads who are successful at this stage is getting that contract offer,” he said. “Making the next step and going up to first-team level where they’re involved regularly is the hardest step in football.
“That’s why a lot of people fail, so there’s a lot of work for these boys to do. None of them are the finished article, they have a lot of hard work ahead, but I’m sure they understand that.
“It’s about getting what happened for Jack and the run Sam had in the team every week. I can remember Jack as an under-10 and he’s always been a good player.
“He was always at the top of whatever group he was in, but that doesn’t happen by accident. He’s done that by working hard. His debut last week gives hope to everybody in the academy at every age.
“We’ve had five through, but the next step is to see how they do next year. They’ve got an opportunity to get to the next level and I think that’s what we should be judged on, not just getting them a pro contract.
“We should be judged on how many make into the match day squad and who really give the manager something to think about.”