By Tony Leighton
Proof positive of the progress made by Hartlepool United's Luke James arrived at the weekend, when the 18-year-old midfielder followed up his 39th first-team appearance on Saturday afternoon by being named the npower League 1 Apprentice of the Year at Sunday evening's Football League Awards in London.
The award was earned through the hard work and dedication of the highly promising youngster, who has been on the club's books since he was 11, and he is now employing the same work ethic as he looks to help Pools avoid relegation.
As he accepted his award, however, his first thoughts were for his parents Ian and Sharon rather than himself. "I live about an hour and a half drive from the club," he told football-league.co.uk, "and when I was in the Academy mum and dad used to take me three times a week, so I'm dedicating my award to them.
"When I got into the youth team I used to go in by train more often than not, and that took over an hour as well. But if you want to be a professional footballer those are the sort of things you have to do, and it was definitely all worthwhile."
Travelling into work is now much easier for James as he has just passed his driving test. And once he gets into work his drive is to establish himself as a first-team regular while trying to help Pools climb out of the relegation zone.
Of his 39 appearances, 26 have come from the substitutes' bench, and he said: "My short-term target is to get a place in the starting line-up, but I'm getting more game time coming off the bench and as long as I'm playing I'm happy.
"It's hard at the moment, battling against relegation, but there's a good spirit in the squad and although the games are starting to run out for us we've still got time to pull ourselves out of trouble if we can put a good run together."
Pools are currently lying bottom of the table, six points from safety with six games remaining. They are in real danger of slipping back to League 2 for the first time in six years, but James is determined to battle to the end.
"I'll give it everything I've got along with the rest of the lads," he said. "Since the first day I got here I've loved everything about the club, and I want to see us staying in League 1 and then playing at the other end of the division next year."
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