Appropriately for the end of the EFL's Youth Development Week, Hatters homegrown hero James Justin made his 100th senior appearance for the club in this afternoon's 3-0 win over Wycombe. Here's what his former youth team boss Paul Driver wrote about working with JJ in today's edition of This Is Our Town... #RaisedInTheEFL
Firstly, can I say what a massive honour it is for me to get this chance to write about and pay tribute to one of the successful youth team group from three years back.
You always read about lads that have the right attitude, that are level headed and that get good guidance from those around them, but this is exactly the basis of why JJ, for me, was a definite for a scholarship very early in his U16 year, why he progressed and improved so much in his time with the Youth Team and why he has continued his improvement and been such a big success as a pro over the last two and a half seasons.
Although he played numerous times for me as an U16, you don’t always get to see what a lad is like in terms of his attitude day in, day out. Some struggle with maintaining the professional side of things but from one of the first sessions we did in the off season before starting his scholarship, I got an early indication that JJ would give his all as he tried to defy an injury to complete a training run and I had to remove him for his own good. Others would have used it as an easy way out of the hard work needed to be in the right shape to tackle full-time football.
This continued throughout his two years with me and I cannot remember him receiving a single fine for any of the misdemeanours we “punished” the youth teamers for like lateness, failed hydration tests, missing kit etc. He was the model scholar in every aspect.
As the fans will already know, one of the big strengths with JJ is his ability to perform well not only on a consistent basis, but also in a variety of positions. We took him on as a midfield player but he “came out the other side” as a full-back who can also be effective as a wing-back, and is equally composed on either flank. At various times, he played in all those positions for us.
I remember a game away at Cambridge a few months into his second year when he played in the centre of midfield and, all of a sudden, it looked he was an over-aged player on the pitch such was his strength, fitness and ability on the ball. It was at that point I knew we had something special on our hands and we had to push him on. From here, he put in a series of excellent performances at full-back in the big games and thoroughly deserved the pro contract he was rewarded with.
I am proud to be able to say that I have been involved in the development of one of the nicest young lads you will meet in the game and, JJ, I look forward to your 150th appearance for The Hatters – hopefully in the Championship next season!