Sam Sherring is hoping cutting his teeth in the rough and tumble of non-league will stand him in good stead for a career in the professional ranks.
The teenage AFC Bournemouth defender played a starring role during a loan spell with Weymouth as they were crowned Southern Premier South champions.
Sherring, 18, made 37 league and cup appearances for the Terras, gaining valuable experience during his first real taste of men’s football.
A member of Shaun Cooper’s under-21 squad, Dorchester-born Sherring, who was raised near Bridport, has been on the Cherries’ books since he was seven.
Sherring told afcb.co.uk: “It was a demanding season for me but a great learning experience. We were doing well and then I injured my knee in January and was out for five weeks. When I came back, I wasn’t sure whether I would get in the team because we were doing so well.
“But I got back in and we had a really good run. We were eight points clear with four games left. Pressure was something I’d never before experienced in football.
“As a team, we probably didn’t perform at our normal levels for a few games due to the pressure. But playing under those circumstances was an invaluable experience for me personally.
“Going into the last game against Farnborough, it was still in our hands. We were a point clear of Taunton and knew we had to win the game.
“The wind was very strong and we had to defend for our lives in the first half. It was 0-0 at half-time but we got three goals in the second half and it was a great day.”
Sherring, who attended Salway Ash Primary and Beaminster School, added: “I’m still only 18 and it was my first experience of men’s football and league football.
“You play in small leagues as a kid but not with fans watching and in stadiums. There was pressure but that was good for me at a young age to deal with.
“Academy football is good but it’s nothing like going out there and fighting for three points.
"The Weymouth fans were brilliant with me, they have been through some really tough times as a club but still come out in their numbers, pay their money every week to watch and they deserve to see their team do well.
"The pressure was there but that’s all part of football and, hopefully, it will stand me in good stead for the future and make me a better player.”
Sherring admitted he had been forced to grow up quickly playing in a combative level at step three of non-league, which is the seventh tier of the English game.
But he was helped along the way by Weymouth boss Mark Molelsey, his under-21 assistant boss at Vitality Stadium, and former Cherries player Stephane Zubar, his defensive partner.
Sherring said: “At that level, most of the strikers are very physical and try to bully you and get into your head, knowing you’re young. If I go on to play at a higher level, that is something I will take with me because I managed to keep a clear head and a clear mentality.
“The Weymouth players only get to train twice a week but I am in every day working with Moles. We can look back on games, work on little things and see little tweaks that I could do better. It’s good working with him every day because I get to take what I’ve learned in training into the matchday environment.
“All the lads at Weymouth were really good with me. A lot of them started at Bournemouth and really helped me.
“Zubes is a legend and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. On and off the field, he was always helping me and giving me words of advice.
“We complemented each other well on the pitch and worked well together. Hopefully, he is someone I will keep in touch with because he’s a really top guy.”
Sherring briefly played under Eddie Howe when the current Cherries boss was centre of excellence manager at Dean Court in 2008.
“I remember it vaguely but was only seven or eight at the time!” said Sherring, who was taken on after impressing during a six-week trial with the Cherries.
“We had a few different coaches and the academy wasn’t what it is now. The philosophy has always been clear and the club has always been good to me.
“I remember when times were tough and it was completely different to what you see here now. I’ve seen the hard times so really appreciate what we have now.
“I want to come back and hit the ground running in pre-season. The goal is always to be in the first team but I know you have to be patient and bide your time. You have to work hard and give your all every day.
“At this club, the opportunities are there if you work hard enough and show the right attitude every day.”
Pictures by Mark Probin