James Hooper has spoken to Dale PlayerHD about making his first team debut.
The Academy graduate, who signed his first professional contract in the summer, made his first appearance for the senior side in Dale’s League One fixture against Gillingham last month after coming on as a second half substitute. He has since gone on to make two starts for the team.
On his appearance at the Priestfield Stadium, Hooper commented: “It was really good and I really enjoyed it. It was a bit surreal – I didn’t think it would come.
“The Gaffer told me what he wanted from me and he put his trust in me so I’ve got to do my bit. It’s not a one way thing - he can’t be putting me on for me then not to give my all. And that’s what I’d like to think I always do, I give it everything.
“It's [making me debut] what I’ve been working for since joining the club and it’s nice to finally get the opportunity. I want to kick on now and hopefully keep asking questions.”
And the 18-year-old who has had to be patient for his first team bow, says he has had to work-hard to earn the opportunity.
“I’ve done a lot of work. I’ve worked with Kevin Gibbins [Dale’s Head of Sports Science] and [player/ coach] Brian Barry-Murphy behind the scenes, doing my extras like gym work.
“I need to get a little bit stronger and get used to the man’s game. I’d like to carry on my extras as that’s what has brought me my opportunity.
“The difference in the standard of going from youth team to first team football was a massive shock to me. I don’t think many people actually realise how big the step is. I don’t think anybody can go through that step up without putting in extra work.
“For example, on our team you’ve got the likes of Michael Rose and Tom Kennedy who have played around 500 games. You’ve got to be able to compete and actually try to do what you can against them.
“It has gone from playing against lads who might not make the grade to playing against top, senior experienced players. It has been difficult for me, it hasn’t been easy all of the time, but it always been enjoyable. I enjoy doing my extras and I think that’s probably the reason why I got my opportunity.”
The senior players have been very complimentary about Hooper since he made his debut at Gillingham, and he says the senior players have been influential in his development and progress.
“They’ve been massive in every way. Sometimes you need an arm around you. You need to use the senior players’ experience and influence because you’re not going to receive that from other people at the club.
“You’ve got to work for yourself and you’ve got to improve yourself, and at the end of the day you get judged on your performances, not anybody else’s.
“The lads have always been welcoming and I’ve got loads of positive things to say about the senior players because they’ve looked after me. And the little things like giving me a kick when I need a kick to get me used to the physical contact.
“Like I said, doing my extras, warming to the senior players and getting used to the environment has been a massive step for me.”
The full interview is on Dale PlayerHD.