Mason Holgate says his performances in central defence during the 2017/18 campaign have given him the belief he can play at the top level - as he hailed the influence of Everton's senior defenders in helping to accelerate his development.
Holgate, who can also operate at right-back, made 21 first-team appearances last season and produced a string of accomplished performances at the heart of the Blues' defence.
The 21-year-old’s season was cut short in March after he underwent minor ankle surgery but he recovered sufficiently to take his place on the bench for the Toffees’ final game of 2017/18 at West Ham United and is now raring to go for pre-season training.
Holgate believes the experience he gained will stand him in good stead as Everton embark on a new era under the tutelage of new boss Marco Silva, who has spoken of his eagerness to give the Club's young players their chance to shine.
“It was the first season properly that I’ve played centre-back so it’s good to know that I believe I can do it there at this level,” Holgate told evertonfc.com.
“It’s something that will help me push on for next season, where I can improve even more.
“The season was a bit up and down for me, obviously with the injury, but I learned a lot in the games I played.
“When you look at centre-backs, people tend to be quite a bit older. I think, for me, to only be 21 and get the game time I have got is good. I’m learning from it and hopefully I can move on and get more experience.”
Holgate believes the Blues squad boasts an exciting blend of emerging talents and seasoned senior professionals.
The England Under-21 defender – who signed from Barnsley in 2015 – is one of a host of young Everton players who made their mark in the first team during the 2017/18 campaign.
Fellow 21-year-old Jonjoe Kenny deputised impressively for Seamus Coleman at right-back when the Republic of Ireland skipper was sidelined with a double broken leg, while fellow Academy graduate Tom Davies – still just 19 – cemented his status as an established figure in the first-team squad by making a further 43 appearances.
Beni Baninigime, also 19, made his breakthrough at senior level - showcasing his infectious energy in the middle of the park - and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who turned 21 in March, featured in more first-team games (44) than any other outfield player at the Club.
Holgate emphasised the role the senior professionals have played in encouraging the young players along and imparting vital words of wisdom.
He also feels that playing alongside such experienced, accomplished players in the Blues backline has been key in his development.
“They have helped me massively,” Holgate said. “I’m the only one [of the centre-backs] who is not a full international. And to be a centre-back, that experience is very important.
“It’s the same will all of the defenders, the full-backs, too. With the experience they’ve all got and the matches they have played, it makes it easier for me to drop in and learn a lot about the game.
“We have got some really good experienced players and a lot of young lads, too, but we blend together well in the dressing room. We have got a good vibe.”