Freddie Sears is ready for the "next challenge" of proving himself at a higher level than the Under-18s, according to academy director Tony Carr.
The prolific striker hit another hat-trick in Saturday's 4-1 demolition of Norwich City to make it 20 goals from 15 games this season. Eight of those strikes have come in the last five games, to underline that Sears is more than over the foot injury which sidelined him last autumn. According to Carr, Sears has got to make the most of opportunities that come his way.
"At our level now, Freddie is scoring an absolute minimum of one a game," Carr said. "He is scoring lots and lots of goals and he is having a good season. He is training with the first team on a regular basis now and working with the senior players is doing him a lot of good. Obviously he is one that we hope can push on and reproduce his form at a more senior level. That is the key. We have had many a great youth player that can't make that step and Fred has to show that he can replicate his form in the reserves and then at a higher level in the future.
"I have been in football for too long to hang my hat fully on players. You hope and you bring them along the right paths but they have to take the opportunities when they come along. Freddie's doing that at the moment with us, he has been playing well in training and in performances for the reserves but certainly for next season and beyond he has got to replicate that form with us and carry it through to more senior football."
The signs are Sears will do just that, not least with another good display off the bench a week ago for England U19s in a 2-0 home friendly win against Croatia. Carr went along to the game in Swindon and said manager Brian Eastick was very positive about the young Hammers striker. "He said he was very bright and looked good in training. He has to keep performing to stay there but we are very pleased with his progress."
Much of the headlines in that England win went to James Tomkins, who gave an "outstanding" performance at centre-back. While Tomkins, who turns 19 next month, played the full game, young club-mate Junior Stanislas was an unused substitute. Carr has every hope the right-sided midfielder will also get his chance. "They are looking at him, he has done enough to get in the squad and now he has to force his way in the team. He has to keep going."
While the club's trio of Young Lions continue to go from strength to strength, the Academy production line rolls on with Carr starting to introduce younger players into the U18 mix such as schoolboy midfielders Conor Okus and Nick Barrett on Saturday. "You have got to move them on and look at what is coming on underneath," Carr added. "Freddie Sears will move on and I have to look at the next players that are coming through. The job is never done, it is a conveyor belt that never stops moving."