Emmanuel Onariase is making giant strides.

This Saturday, the schoolboy is again expected to represent West Ham United's Under-18s when they visit Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Barclays U18 Premier League Tier One Stage. The Hammers have started their post-Christmas campaign well, beating Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 on 12 January before drawing 1-1 with West Bromwich Albion at Little Heath last weekend.

He may be only 16, but 6'2 centre-back Onariase has already a regular for the youth team and is also expected to do very well in his upcoming GCSE examinations.

The defender, who trains with his team-mates on a day-release programme, is also head boy at St Thomas the Apostle College in Peckham, the same area of south east London that produced former West Ham defenders Rio and Anton Ferdinand. The defender said the example set by Rio was one he would love to follow.

"I'm in year eleven so I've got my GCSEs coming up this summer. It's difficult to juggle everything but my Dad said 'Never limit yourself' and told me I should always balance things. I'm the head boy at my school and I'm predicted As and A-stars, and I love maths and science!

"I always used to think I wouldn't have enough time to do everything but I do work hard and I'm spending my spare time revising and playing football to my maximum potential.

"I do have free time, so I use that to relax or going out with my family and friends.

"Growing up in the same area as Rio, there are people that I know that knew him. I hear so many stories about how Rio Ferdinand used to go the park near where I live and practice for hours on his own.

"I don't want to be a copycat, but that gives me motivation to be like him and sometimes I go by myself with a football to the park and work on my heading and my left and right-foot shots."

Onariase's determination to succeed stood him in good stead when he was initially rejected by West Ham, only to show his ability and win a contract at the age of 12.

"I started playing football for my primary school in year five. Then, when I got to year seven, I got chosen for the district team. There, some clubs looked at me in a match against West Ham and luckily enough the club asked me to come over and train with them, so that's how I ended up here.

"After my first training session they said I was not good enough! I went back over to my district team and played there for a few more months and then went to Millwall. They offered me a contract, but then I got invited back to West Ham and they liked what they saw, so they offered me a contract and I signed that when I was 12."

Now, the centre-back is playing up an age-group and is considered to be one of the club's most-promising youngsters.

"I'm very lucky that the manager sees potential in me and picks me in the squad. I am very happy about that.

"I think my defending as a whole is my best asset, particularly my tackling. I'm not the fastest but I can move around the pitch and win the ball back with slide tackles.

"Under-18 level is much more physical than Under-16s football in that you have to be able to win tackles and head the ball. My heading has come on a lot this season, because I wasn't too good at that earlier in my career.

"The thing is that it might look as if I am playing in the youth team every week, but I don't just turn up and play. I have motivation all around me to make me do better. Even though I'm playing in the youth team every week, I don't think I've reached my maximum, I think I can still go further.

"I'm not settling for where I am. Until I get to the top level, there is no stopping.

"My teacher at school always says that my best attribute is that I'm an all-rounder - I'm good at sport, have good charisma and I'm a leader. My Dad always says to me 'You don't have to be good at everything', but I like to think that I can be!

"I always aspire to be the best at everything I do and I'd love to be captain of West Ham one day. In five years' time, I want to be playing at the top level in the first team and be a positive role model."

Tottenham Hotspur tickets