Roy “Huta” Ebanks has always concentrated on producing well rounded citizens rather than great players as technical director of Future Sports Club and that philosophy is certainly paying off because he has three exceptional footballers in his youth teams who are also well rounded teenagers.
Ryan Jackson, Leighton Thomas Jr., and Kameron D’Hue were all in the inaugural CONCACAF Under-15 tournament last summer, catching the eye of international scouts with their brilliance.
The careers of all three have blossomed since. Thomas was the tournament’s top scorer with 11 goals.
Jackson and Thomas went for trials at professional clubs in Holland and England, respectively, over the Easter period and impressed coaches.
D’Hue got one of three coveted places with the recent Digicel Kickstart program with Chelsea and will go to Barbados for 10 days for the Premier League club’s regional camp in October.
Jackson, 16, met all the football criteria with Willem ll/PSV Academy in Tilburg and now only has to meet their academic standards in his exams this summer to get a fully paid two-year entry into the academy from September, which he fully expects to do in the next few weeks.
Jackson is in crutches currently, a result of a rash tackle from a Roma United player which fractured his right fibula, needing a cast. He expects to make a speedy recovery and be fit for the start of next season.
Jackson thoroughly enjoyed his time in Holland, playing two practice matches and doing so well that the Dutch academy contacted his parents and made the offer.
He only needs to pass a minimum of five of 12 Caribbean Examination Council subjects he is taking to meet the Willem criteria and has every confidence of doing so.
Jackson, an attacking midfielder, had trials with Valencia, Spain last year but prefers the Dutch way. “Valencia is more tactical and about technique, in Holland, it’s kind of more physical.”
He is grateful to Huta for his input, as they all are. “Coach Huta has helped me a lot with the training, in practice matches and he’s made me play U-23 in the men’s league which has helped me develop much more,” Jackson said.
Thomas, 15, returned to Ipswich Town, an English Championship team, who recalled him a year after an initial tryout went well. A versatile player, Thomas is outstanding anywhere on the park, but Ipswich see his potential as a holding midfielder. He too was well received but told to work on his tactical awareness and positional play.
If Thomas can improve on those aspects, then Ipswich will take him in next year on a fully paid two-year scholarship as well.
Thomas said that the most he learnt was not to spend too much time on the ball and to try to play it as fast as possible. He was also taught to improve his movement off the ball and to try to anticipate play better. He was able to cope with the physical style of the English game.
“Ipswich said I mainly had the pace, power and strength to play at their level,” Thomas said.
D’Hue, 16, a center-back, said the Chelsea camp opportunity is the most exciting thing in football that has happened to him, although he thoroughly enjoyed the CONCACAF tournament too, having never been so well supported by Caymanians before.
He said that the Chelsea coaches liked his speed and strength, which is what they look for in the English game. He was advised in the meantime to eat and drink healthily and to avoid injury as much as possible.
D’Hue loves the camaraderie at Future and believes that if not for Huta, “I wouldn’t be the player that I am today.”
He added, “When I play for Future, I feel that I’m giving back what they gave to me. That alone gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
A pragmatic kid, D’Hue is aware of how tough it is to reach the pinnacle as a player so, even though he would love a glittering pro career, is just as focused on getting a master’s degree in sports management or physical education.
All three are in Future’s U-17, U-23 and First Division teams, which Huta feels hastens their development, playing mostly against older boys and men.
Future U-15s won the league and got to the FA Cup final, losing to Bodden Town.
Future’s U-17s only finished third but that was more down to injuries to key players rather than a lack of ability. They were fourth in the First Division but, considering most of that team also play at U-17 level, it was no disgrace.
“Future’s philosophy is not for winning championships,” Huta insisted. “It is to developing young people as students and athletes and trying to direct them to a better life.
“If we win championships through that process, it will be the crowning of our program. Unlike other clubs in the Cayman Islands, it’s not based on how many trophies we can win at the end of the season.”
Huta believes all three are good enough to pursue pro careers. He thanked Digicel for bringing the Kickstart program here for the first time and applauded Chelsea coaches for not being influenced by local coaches on who to pick for the three Barbados slots.
He added that if Thomas and Jackson had been on island when the initial 30 Cayman kids were picked for the Digicel Kickstart squad for the Chelsea visit, all three might have got a spot for the Barbados trip.