EXETER'S EXCITING YOUTH: FROM WATCHING ON THE SIDELINES TO RUNNING DOWN THEM
“At the start of the season I was just trying to make sure I was at least involved with the team.”
The aim from the beginning of the season was clear for Exeter City’s Josh Key, ensure he’s in the squad week after week and try to impress during training, alongside any cameos from the bench.
But it went far better than he expected.
The 21-year-old has played 16 out of 17 League Two games for Exeter and has firmly nailed down the right-back position for the Grecians, further echoing the club’s emphasis on promoting their younger players.
Key joined the Exeter City academy at 17, following the closing of Torquay United’s developmental programme.
After graduating from the academy, he spent two seasons on-loan at Tiverton Town, a spell he believes has been detrimental to his success and has greatly helped him develop his playstyle.
“A lot of the things I learnt from Tiverton were similar to all levels of football.
“It’s not all pretty football, tiki taka and passing, it’s a lot of having to put your body on the line and my game is very physical.
“I think no matter how good you are on the ball, if you can run yourself into the game it helps hugely,” said Key.
Before Matt Taylor was appointed as the Exeter first team manager, the club’s former defender and captain was heavily involved with the academy at a time when Key was making his name more known in the youth setup.
Therefore, when Taylor was announced as the first team manager it gave Key a huge boost of possibly being in the senior team sooner rather than later.
“It gave me some confidence when we found out that Matt was the new manager and that he was also going to be using Dan Green and Wayne Carlisle who had also been my coaches.
“That gave me a bit of security and I was thinking I’ve got a good chance here because these guys know who I am and they know how to work with me,” said Key.
Despite his ability, there were days where he doubted himself and believed that maybe football wasn’t for him, but he admits the support and guidance he’s had from the coaches who’ve been with him throughout his Exeter career has been crucial.
“They’ve put a lot of trust in me even when there were times I doubted myself, they saw what I was able to do and even when I was thinking maybe it’s not for me, they pushed me through.
“They’ve done a lot of work with me and have just told me to keep believing in myself and backing myself in everything I do and just saying that to me all the time has helped a lot,” said Key.
In the most-recent transfer window, the Grecians signed well-travelled full-back Jake Caprice from Tranmere Rovers but he has severely struggled with injury problems which has allowed Key to make the position on the right-side of defence his own.
“Jake is obviously a very talented player and he’s been unlucky with injuries at the start of the year but that’s obviously led to me being able to play and it’s good for us both that we can look for that competition as well as being teammates.
“I think it just keeps us both on our toes and I think Matty knows we can both do the job so it’s good to have someone else who’s a very good player and you can work off each other with that,” said Key.
From how he has started the season you wouldn’t be able to tell that growing up Key was used further forward as a winger but despite the slight position change, he’s been able to adapt to different jobs while also being able to use his quality going forward.
“Full-backs have to be very attacking as well and It’s very good to have that versatility in your game where if someone goes off then I can play in different positions and I think that is something Exeter have always done with young lads.
“But I’m really enjoy playing as a full-back and I’m happy to play anywhere as long as it means I’m on the pitch,” said Key.
From his boyish charm to his unrelenting work rate, it’s easy to understand why Josh Key has become a firm favourite with both City supporters and his teammates.
And manager Matt Taylor has been speaking very highly on his performances this season and revealed that once Jake Caprice is fighting fit, having the option of being able to move his starting right-back higher up the pitch is something he’s “really looking forward to.”