• Kieran Horn

WATKINS, AMPADU AND MORE: EXETER CITY CAPTAIN TALKS ABOUT THE ACADEMY GROWING STARS


“Ollie was on loan at Weston Super-Mare five years ago and now he’s scoring a hattrick against the Premier Leagues best team".

Jake Taylor, 2020


Working hard will get you far in life and Ollie Watkins is living proof of that. From a young age, no one could dispute the talent at the feet of the Torquay native, but it was about channelling that through a combination of work ethic and the right attitude, something he certainly did.


Exeter City manager Matt Taylor has made no secret surrounding the idea that it would be a rebuild season for the Grecians and fans would get to watch more of the youth players getting first team minutes.


Six games into the new season and the 38-year-old has stuck by his words, with four academy players earning regular first team minutes. Ben Seymour, Will Dean, Joel Randall and Josh Key have all been called upon this campaign.


Both Josh Key and Joel Randall spent time on loan at Tiverton Town, with the latter also having a brief spell at Weston-Super-Mare, the same club where Watkins got his big break.


While Will Dean got some game time at Truro City, and Seymour, the oldest of four, had his loan moves a few years ago with Gloucester City and then like Watkins and Randall, Weston-Super-Mare.


Despite it still being early in the new season, all the academy players that have come into the first team have delivered so far and City captain Jake Taylor has definitely noticed that.


“To see them come in and instantly earn are trust by putting in some good performances is really positive, they’ve definitely got the approval of everyone involved,” said Taylor.


While their work ethic and ability has been brilliantly showcased so far this season, it’s also very possible that no fans in attendance has allowed the youngsters to take more chances, knowing they won’t get any stick from the crowd.


However, Taylor admits that it works both ways, in that the academy graduates could easily be spurred on by the roar of a crowd getting behind them.


“It’s a difficult one, I think playing in front of no fans you don’t have the added pressure of away games where you might get a little bit of abuse. But in home games you might get a little bit more support”.


Now that the Grecians have some exciting young lads coming through the ranks, the onus is on the senior players to help and support them as much as they can. Ideally, you want them to feel comfortable bringing any issues to the more experienced players or the skipper.


“As captain of the club it’s important to have these responsibilities and help youngsters come through.


“We’re always here to help out as much as we can, if they’ve ever got questions or something that they might not feel comfortable with during the game it’s nice when they come to you.


“It’s a good club to be at for learning, so we’re always here to help out as much as we can if they’ve ever got questions or something that they might not feel comfortable with during the game it’s nice when they come to you,” said Taylor.


On the opening day of the season, Key, Randall and Dean all started for the Grecians while Seymour was not in the squad. In the weeks following two of the three nailed down starting positions for themselves in the team.


“I think Josh Key and Joel Randall have been the two standouts that have come in and looked as if they’ve played in this league for a number of years”, said Taylor.


Last season Matt Taylor deployed a very effective five at the back formation, but after the embarrassing play-off final defeat against Northampton, he has since opted for a 4-3-3 which involves pushing Randell Williams into a more attacking role.


With the position on the right side of the defence now vacant, Key has come in and made it his own. The 20-year-old has completed 90 minutes in all of City’s league two fixtures bar one, including netting the winner against Mansfield.


As for Joel Randall, the winger has started the season in fine form and is the top scorer for the Grecians with three goals in six appearances.


Both players have clearly contributed to Exeter’s positive start to the season and deserve to keep their starting place going forward.


“They’ve earnt the right to put on the Exeter shirt in some big games, it’s hard work but they’ve really come in and done well which is exciting to see,” said the Welshman.


The Exeter City academy have produced some excellent players alongside Watkins, Ethan Ampadu spent eight years in the youth setup and is now on the books at Chelsea.


Swansea City skipper Matt Grimes also earnt his trade in Exeter, with the versatile midfielder playing 62 times for the Devon club, including winning their 2013/14 player of the season.


“The club have obviously done really well; we love seeing the likes of Ollie and Ethan all do really well. So, if there’s more to come from the academy, there’s definitely exciting times for Exeter and the young boys are in the right place if they want to have a good career,” said Taylor.


With plenty of talent in the youth academy now getting the platform to showcase their abilities, who’s to say there isn’t another Ollie Watkins in this current crop of youngsters at St James’ Park.