Jason Knight is hoping to build on what was a whirlwind end to his 2018/19 season by impressing on his first pre-season camp with the Derby County first-team.
The Rams' youngster earned his seat on the plane to Tampa, Florida, alongside seven other exciting young prospects, after impressing throughout a brilliant last campaign with the Under-23s and title-winning Under-18s.
The typical gruelling pre-seaso has been made even tougher in the Florida heat and humidity, but Knight says he is enjoying every minute of it so far.
“It has been good travelling out to Tampa, it has been some good hard work out in the strong, strong heat,” he told RamsTV.
“You know a lot of the players anyway from being around the club but having players here as well your own age certainly does help too.
“A lot of the older lads are really good with us younger lads, helping us through sessions and we know that we are not on our own at all. They just help us a lot in different ways, not just out on the pitch.”
It has been a huge past three months for the 18-year-old midfielder having been named in the match-day squad in the Rams’ stunning victory against Leeds United in the Play-Off Semi-Final Second Leg and again for the Play-Off Final against Aston Villa at Wembley Stadium.
Knight admitted that the call-up was a shock having already returned home to Ireland after completing his two-year scholarship with the Under-18s, who had won the national title just weeks before.
“I flew home back to Dublin then I got a call saying I had to fly back the next day and fly into Leeds,” Knight explained.
“My head was going 100 miles an hour while I was back over there. It was a really good experience. It wasn’t the best result in the end in the Final, but for me personally it was great to get that experience.
“It was incredible, that night at Leeds. It was a great night for the club the fans and for me personally to get on the bench was a big achievement and something that I strive to get more of.”
Another big achievement came just weeks later when the teenager made his Republic of Ireland Under-21s debut in the Toulon Tournament, with an appearance of the bench before two starts, to help Ireland reach the semi-finals and eventually finish fourth after falling to Mexico on penalties.
It was a big learning curve for Knight who explained he has had to adapt quickly to facing against the older and stronger opposition.
“It was really good, playing in a similar heat to here in Florida and playing with a lot of older lads which I had to get used to and hopefully I will get more games playing in the Under-21s,” he said.
“It is a jump physically, but you get used to it quickly because you have to look after yourself and you have to be as strong as those you are playing against.”
Knight is eager for those experiences to propel him into the upcoming season and is determined to impress new manager, Phillip Cocu, in Florida.
Cocu has already garnered a reputation for his development of the youth and bringing them through to be successful in senior football during his time managing PSV Eindhoven, which aligns with the Rams’ philosophy already put in place that has seen the likes of Jayden Bogle and Max Bird most recently stamp their authority in first-team football.
For Knight, he feels it is an exciting time and he is ready to compete.
“You hear everyone talking about him bringing in the youth and it is great for us young lads that he has done that, hopefully he does that again here at Derby,” he added.
“Whenever a new manager comes in I expect that everyone has to try and get their shirt for the first game of the season and that is what everyone here is trying to do whether they are young or been in the squad for a number of years.
“It is the same for everyone, we are all trying to get fitter and fitter and hopefully get that shirt at the start of the season.”