Wolves youngster Dion Sanderson is aiming to go from ball boy to first-teamer next season after signing a new two-year contract.
The 19-year-old homegrown defender has signed a contract extension which includes a 12-month option to remain at Molineux until 2021.
Sanderson, who can play centre back or right wing back, is in his first season as a professional. He enjoyed an impressive breakthrough year in Rob Edwards’ Under-23 side, playing a key role as they won the Premier League 2 Division 2 title.
“My aim for next season is to break into the first-team; that’s my main focus,” said Sanderson. “I believe I can push into the squad and impress the manager, but we will then see what the season holds.”
Despite his tender years, Sanderson has been with Wolves for 11 years and the youngster admits he is so excited at signing new terms because of the feeling he has for the club.
“I’m delighted to have signed a new deal. Playing for this club has been a dream for me, especially since I’ve been here from just eight-years-old,” he said.
“I live in the heart of Wolverhampton and being a young lad from here I looked up to a lot of Wolves players when I was younger and now I’m here as a player myself.
“I’ve come a long way in that time. I first started coming to Molineux when I was younger as a ball-boy for the first-team games, so I’m delighted that I’m now here as an under-23 players and my future at Wolves is all sorted.
“Hopefully I can get in the senior squad soon, because playing for the Wolves first-team is a dream of mine.”
So determined is Sanderson to make the grade that he has sacrificed part of his time off this summer to work on his fitness in readiness for pre-season and is already back at Compton.
“I’ve been working hard at home and coming in to Compton during the last couple of weeks, doing my own fitness training, as well as joining up with a couple of the other players, so I feel ready and fit to be back at it,” he said. “I’ve been told to focus, work on the main bits; my strengths, my weaknesses, keep fit over the summer because I want to come back flying and impress in pre-season.”
Academy manager Scott Sellars has seen a lot of Sanderson and believes he can make the big time.
He said: “Last year was a big year for Dion and he really developed. He’s a great kid who works hard, all the challenges we’ve put to him, even as a young boy, he’s always risen to.
“Stepping up to being a pro, the first year can be difficult; there are older players ahead of you and you have to get past, sometimes that doesn’t happen. But Dion played at right-wing back and centre half, and always performed really well.
“You’re not going to make it as a professional footballer if you don’t strive to improve, and he’s also got the sort of personality we like. He’s really hardworking, determined and committed. They’re qualities we’re looking for in players, and qualities Nuno looks for; how players act on and off the pitch is important to him and us.
“You’ve got to be a good professional to get to the high levels of football now. Dion got himself into the team and was very much a key performer as the season developed, so played a big part in the lads earning promotion. This is his reward.”
Despite his tender years, Sanderson has already been with the club for 11 years. Joining the club at the age of eight – the earliest possible age – to play for the Under-nines, he rose through the academy to be included in the Under-23s last season.
Recovering from a stress fracture during the first half of the campaign, Sanderson made up for lost time by starting eight of the final 10 games. He was delighted to have played his part in the Under-23s’ promotion.
“It was a big season, especially being injured as well, but I came back feeling stronger and proved to myself that I can play at this level and beyond,” he said.
“I was happy to be involved, and around the team quite a lot after I came back from injury, especially winning the league on the last game of the season against Manchester United. I was delighted to be involved in that game, but the hard work doesn’t stop.
“I’m happy I’ve impressed because that’s how I’ve got this contract.”
Sanderson’s powerful header against Stoke City at Molineux in April set Wolves on their way to a 2-1 victory, which proved crucial in their promotion quest.
“It was a great feeling, in front of quite a crowd, and it was my first goal of last season. All my family were there as well, so it was good to score in front of them,” he added.