Morgan Whittaker is one of four players from Derby County’s Academy to have made their first-team debuts so far this season.
The 18-year-old forward made his professional debut back in August as a substitute in the Carabao Cup First Round victory at Scunthorpe United, along with fellow youngsters Lee Buchanan and Louie Sibley.
He followed that cameo appearance with his first-ever start in the Second Round tie at Nottingham Forest just two weeks later.
Whittaker’s progress so far this season was also rewarded with his first-ever EFL appearance when he came off the bench in the second half of last weekend’s Sky Bet Championship clash at Hull City.
The England Under-19 international has been in prolific form for the Rams’ Under-23s and Under-19s so far this term, scoring nine goals in eight matches combined.
His form last term, for the Under-18s and Under-23s, saw him score 24 times from 37 appearances while he also recorded 16 assists to take his overall goal contribution to an impressive 40.
Manager Phillip Cocu, who has already demonstrated his belief in youth in his brief time at Pride Park following his appointment in the summer, stated last week that several young players are showing impressive signs of progress.
Several youngsters have spent the majority of the season training with the first-team squad and Whittaker, who is one of those individuals, believes Derby’s coaches and senior players are playing an important role in their development.
Speaking to RamsTV’s Academy Review Show, which will be aired on dcfc.co.uk and YouTube from 6pm this evening, Whittaker said: “It has been good to be with the first-team and it’s where every player wants to be.
“There’s been a lot of hard work from not just the players but the coaches too, which is what people don’t normally see from the outside.
“The senior players are helping the young lads and they’ve been really good with us. I think it’s helping us develop as players and I think most of us are seeing the benefits of being involved with them.
“It’s good for the club and it shows what the young lads can do. All of us are still striving for more and while you can feel settled in the group quickly, I think you can see we are all hungry for more.”
He added: “Even if you’re not involved in the first-team and with the Under-23s, it’s an opportunity show why you should be involved on the matchday squads in the future. I think that’s why we’ve seen people involved in the matchday squads so often.”
Whittaker came off the after 68 minutes off the clash at Hull last weekend, replacing midfielder Kieran Dowell.
Despite the 2-0 defeat at the KCOM Stadium, it was another special and landmark day in his career.
However, the youngster is determined to remain grounded and knows plenty of hard work lies ahead if he is to be involved in the first team in the future.
He said: “It’s important to remain grounded. Coming on for 20 minutes was great but as player the long-term goal is to start games and I think it is about little steps in the right direction.
“You can’t get too ahead of yourself. Coming in on Monday morning, it was a new slate and a new week and another chance to push to be in the squad for the next game.”
He added “Everyone is pushing each other every day and the standards are high right the way through the age groups. The attitude doesn’t change no matter what team you are in and that’s why everyone is performing so well.”
Whittaker, Sibley and Buchanan are just three of nine players to have come through the Rams’ youth system in recent years.
Jayden Bogle, Mason Bennett, Max Lowe, Max Bird, Jason Knight and Jayden Mitchell-Lawson have also made first-team appearances in the opening months of the campaign.
The full interview with Morgan Whittaker, and fellow England youth international Louie Sibley, will be available to watch on The Academy Review Show, available on dcfc.co.uk and on YouTube, from 6pm this evening.