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Sam Rush: Derby County's hat-trick of awards reflects the club's hard work

20 March 2014

Derby County were the most decorated club at Sunday's Football League Awards taking home three prizes - a statistic that shows the hard work of everyone at the iPro Stadium, according to the club's president and chief executive Sam Rush.

The Rams were honoured for their off-field work as well as their successes on the pitch with Rush saying that the two aspects of their operations go "hand-in-hand".

Rush explained: "It's great to have won three awards. We have not won too often before so I'm really pleased and to have three in one night is brilliant, it's been a good year for the club."

The headline-grabber for the Rams was 18-year-old midfielder Will Hughes being named the Football League Young Player of the Year. The award follows a series of sparkling displays that have helped turn Derby into contenders for promotion from the Sky Bet Championship, while he has also progressed into the England under-21 squad.

Hughes was unable to collect his award - having been injured in the previous day's draw at Reading - so Rush picked it up on his behalf.

"It's a real honour for Will to win it," Rush said. "There is a huge amount of competition in The Football League and as I understand it a third of all players are eligible for this award, so for him to come out on top [at his age] is an amazing achievement.

"He is a very grounded young man. Considering the amount of exposure he has had he is well-mannered and intelligent and I think that is why he has made such good progress."

It marked a double success for the club's young players on the evening with 17-year-old forward Mason Bennett also being named the LFE Apprentice of the Year for the Championship.

Bennett is Derby's youngest ever player, having made his senior debut in a Championship match at Middlesbrough in October 2011 aged just 15 years and 99 days. Even now, while having signed professional terms, he is still a second-year Academy scholar.

This season he has made 12 Championship appearances for the Rams, been a regular goalscorer for the England under-19 side and has just joined Sky Bet League 2 side Chesterfield on a month-long loan.

But Bennett has also shone with his achievements in the LFE education programme, his work in the community and his all-round attitude and manner.

He puts a lot of his progress down to help and guidance from Simon Ord, the club's education and welfare officer.

Bennett said: "I'm actually living with Simon which has helped me a lot. He has helped me massively this year and I think most of the credit should go to him because it must be difficult.

"He has got all these other kids, he is trying to get their education done, and he has helped me massively.

"It's going well. I'm not going to college now as I can't fit it in with training but I've got to work hard outside of football and get it all done."

Both Bennett and Hughes have made great strides in the Derby County Academy over recent years and Academy manager Darren Wassall earned praise from Rush for his efforts in developing the two youngsters.

Rush added: "It is really a credit to Darren Wassall and the Academy team. Darren has worked incredibly hard and to have two awards for him in Mason and Will is tremendous.

"He revamped the Academy when he came on board nearly five years ago and I'm glad he is seeing the fruits of all that hard work.

"It is very important for the club to have a successful Academy and Darren is doing extremely well so we're really pleased."

Off the field, the Rams were honoured with the PERFORM Best Digital Content and Audience Growth Award for their 'Return of the Mac' campaign.

Work on that began in September when Steve McClaren was appointed as the club's head coach. Delivering content across multiple channels has seen a huge rise in visitor numbers to the official website to beyond 200,000 views a month, while social conversion rates have risen nearly 25 per cent.

It was a collective effort involving the club's media and marketing teams that has paid dividends.

Multimedia manager Matt Reeder explained: "We looked at straplines and Faye Nixon, our marketing manager, worked tirelessly on the whole concept of 'Return of the Mac'.

"We also looked at how we could re-engage with our fans on a broader scale across all platforms - content-drivers like the website, Rams Player, the YouTube channel, Twitter and Facebook.

"As a collective we started out with Return of the Mac but before that we looked at how we could drive people with the level of exclusivity we could offer surrounding the new manager.

"We took ownership a bit more from the local and national media and kept it in-house, and that really re-engaged with the fans and put us as the first place fans came to."

The Rams' efforts in the community were also recognised with the club's Community Trust being named Community Club of the Year for the Midlands. However, the overall Johnstone's Paint Community Club of the Year Award was won by Brentford's Community Sports Trust.

For more information about The Football League Awards 2014 visit

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