Cheltenham Town: New pro Zack has earned his chance
RUSSELL Milton has praised new Cheltenham Town professional Zack Kotwica for his dedication after helping him make the step up from youth to senior football.
The Gloucester-born teenager signed a two-year contract yesterday, a reward for his rapid progress since starting his scholarship in the Robins' academy just over a year ago.
Kotwica's ability and speed have always made him stand out through the age groups for nearly a decade and he spent time on trial at Everton two years ago.
But Cheltenham's head of youth Milton said something clicked last season as Kotwica grasped exactly what was needed to succeed and earn a place in Mark Yates' first team plans.
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"Zack has always had that quality and scored plenty of goals, standing out at every age group," Milton said.
"The main thing for me is that realisation of what was required of him and things clicked three or four months into last season.
"He started working much harder off the ball and if you look at him now, he tracks back and doesn't give defenders a minutes peace either.
"He has learned to mix his game up and link up with the full-back, but he's always been able to go past players."
Milton estimates that former Beaufort Community School pupil Kotwica was involved in around 60 per cent of the youth team's goals last season, including a hat-trick in the FA Youth Cup second round win at AFC Wimbledon, earning the young Robins a third round home tie against Tottenham Hotspur, which they narrowly lost 1-0.
"Zack is a constant threat and he now has that awareness of what it takes," Milton said.
"A lot of it is mental, making that step up, and he's taken it all in his stride and it's great news for everyone that he's signed professional terms already.
"He's jumped straight in with the first team this season, gone on in all three games so far and it's a reward for his focus."
Milton hopes Kotwica will complete his studies, which will see him obtain an apprenticeship in sporting excellence at the end of this season.
He will however be excused from his old youth team duties, which included washing the patio area at Seasons, vacuum-cleaning the offices and cleaning the boots of the senior players.
"Zack was good at his jobs, I'll give him credit for that!" Milton said. "He deserves this chance and he has energy, pace and he's come back stronger this season too.
"Hopefully this can open the door for a few more to make it because Cheltenham is in Zack's blood after nearly ten years and he brings an exuberance that Mark (Yates) has obviously been impressed with."