James Tomkins has told WHUTV how he owes a debt to the likes of Anton Ferdinand and Lucas Neill for helping him to impress on his first-team bow.
The defender is enjoying a week to remember after making his debut in the 1-1 draw at Everton on Saturday and even nearly scored with virtually his first touch as an early header crashed against the bar. He is also in line to represent England U19s on Tuesday in a friendly against Russia and then finish the week with his 19th birthday on Saturday. Before he gets the chance to blow out the candles though, he will have to catch his breath from a memorable weekend.
"It was brilliant," he told WHUTV. "It was a great atmosphere and it is such an honour. I am still speechless now. It is just so good to play at Goodison Park and a good experience for me playing against good players like Yakubu." While the Nigeria striker was able to get the better of the teenager in the eighth minute at Everton to put the home team in front, Tomka - as he is known to his team-mates - was able to stamp his authority on the match after that.
WATCH TOMKA TELL ALL ON WHUTV
He said: "I felt I grew in confidence and learnt as the game went on. I just loved it. It is a good experience for me to play against players like that." As is typical of the modest centre-back, he was quick to pay tribute to those around him. "The whole defence were brilliant. Anton was talking to me every two seconds. He was great for me and great to play alongside. Obviously Lucas was talking throughout the game - they all helped me along."
Tomkins is not the only talented young defender coming through with the likes of Jordan Spence and Bondz N'Gala also emerging while further forward there are midfielders Junior Stanislas and Jack Collison pushing to join Freddie Sears, who impressed again off the bench against Everton. "It is great for the Academy and shows how well we are doing in the reserves and the youth team," Tomkins said. "Freddie deserved his chance and obviously you have got Jack Collison and Junior Stanislas coming through. It is looking good for the Academy."
The defender may have had a rapid rise and looks set for a week to remember but there is no danger of him losing sight of what is important. "My dad and my brothers came along [to watch me]. My mum wasn't able to make it but I was thinking of her after the game and she sent me a text. They have been so good, such a supportive family and it is good to have people behind you like that."
His manager Alan Curbishley has also been right behind him, with the manager admitting Tomkins' bow could have come sooner had he not suffered a shoulder injury last season. "He was on the verge of getting a game before I turned up but he put his shoulder out. So he's been around it and everyone has great hopes for him ... He likes to play and pass his way out. I know he is quite aggressive but what please me most is that when Yakubu rolled him it didn't faze him."