Will Hughes a shining example for the Derby County young guns as they aim for run in Cup
ACADEMY manager Darren Wassall hopes Derby County's young guns can take inspiration from teenage sensation Will Hughes.
Hughes has become a first-team regular for the Rams this season and is attracting interest from Premier League clubs.
The 17-year-old midfielder recently became the second youngest player to represent England at under-21 level.
Hughes has been earning plaudits for his performances in the Championship and was named man of the match in Saturday's 3-1 victory over Leeds United.
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"To be an ever-present in the side this season at the age of 17 is a huge accolade and everyone at the club is delighted for him," said Wassall. "We just hope his good form continues.
"The ethos of the club is to produce young players for the first team.
"The fact that Will is in the first team at 17 and has earned his place on merit is a great fillip for everybody.
"Hopefully, he will spur on the other young players at the club and be an inspiration to them.
"As an Academy, we're here to try to produce young players to play at the highest level possible.
"The youth team players are watching Will at Pride Park on a regular basis now and it's certainly a positive that one of our own is doing so well."
Hughes helped the Rams' under-18s knock Arsenal out of the FA Youth Cup last season.
He is still eligible to play in this year's competition but will not feature due to his key involvement with the first team.
So Wassall will have to make do without him when Derby take on Gateshead in a third round tie at Pride Park Stadium tonight (7pm).
"Of course, it would be great to have Will but, hopefully, we will have enough to win without him, as long as we perform to the abilities we know that we've got," he said.
"I think any team would like him but we have to look at the bigger picture."
Wassall hopes that a few more stars of the future will be on show this evening.
"Since Nigel (Clough) arrived here in 2009, he's said he wants this to be known as a club that produces young players," said the former Derby and Nottingham Forest defender.
"Hopefully, in the past three or four years, we've started to prove that we're capable of doing that.
"If the fans want to come down and have a look at what's in store for them over the next few years, we'd be very grateful.
"It will be a great experience for the lads to be playing in front of a crowd, whatever size it is."
Derby's youth team have not won a competitive match so far this season – but Wassall is confident they can turn things around.
"We've been in winning positions on several occasions but we haven't been able to convert that into an actual win, apart from when we beat Coventry in a friendly," he said.
"It is a mental thing. It's not down to any lack of technical ability.
"We've got to be mentally stronger in games – if you're 2-0 up or 3-2 up with 10 minutes to go, you should be seeing those games out.
"Obviously, the longer that goes on, the harder it is to overcome it.
"But we're going to keep going and make sure things turn around.
"That will only happen through hard work, application and doing all the horrible things right.
"The lads wouldn't be here if they weren't technically good. We know they've got lots of ability but that counts for nothing if your mental strength isn't right.
"That's what will see us through."