ARGYLE’S disappointing 2018-19 Sky Bet League One campaign may not live long in many fans’ memory but for Young Player of the Season Luke Jephcott, it could be the start of something special.
The Pilgrims’ Welsh attacking prospect stormed to the prestigious award after an outstanding breakthrough year that not only saw him make ten first-team appearances, but also represent Wales Under-19s in the European Championships – all in his first year as a professional.
“It’s a great achievement for me,” said Luke. “I was very happy when I found out that I had won, and I’m just grateful for everyone that supported me.”
The Aberystwyth-born forward has always been highly thought of within the Pilgrims’ Academy set-up, having been picked up while representing West Cornwall Schools as a youngster. While Jephcott might have always been destined for first-team football, this season’s meteoric rise has surprised everyone, including him.
“It definitely exceeds my expectations,” said Luke. “I wasn’t expecting anywhere near as much involvement as I had, let alone 10 games playing. It’s been a successful first year for me.”
Having impressed then first-team manager Derek Adams with his commitment and performances in training and development games, Luke was thrown into the first-team squad for the Sky Bet League One clash with Burton in October. With four minutes to go in Argyle’s 3-2 home defeat to the Brewers, Adams gave Jephcott the nod – a moment he recalls with refreshing honesty.
“When he [Derek Adams] told me to go and warm-up, and then said I was coming on, I was just like; ‘Is this happening for real?’
“I remember training with the first-team a couple days before [the Burton game], and then going back into the dressing-room and seeing my name on the team-sheet,” said Jephcott.
“I was really nervous about it, leading up to it. But when you’re on the pitch, all the nerves go away, and you just drown everything out and focus on the game.”
The Academy graduate’s first-team involvement did not end there, though. Having impressed sufficiently during training, Jephcott had an inkling he would be in line to make his full debut on a bitterly cold winter day at Rochdale. The hunch was proven correct, as he went on to play more than an hour in the Pilgrims’ 2-1 win at Spotland.
“I kind of had a feeling on the Thursday, two days before,” smiled Jephcott, recalling the moment that he realised he would be making his first league start.
“We did shape in training, and I was in the starting team. I was wondering if I was filling in for someone, or if something was wrong!
“He [Derek Adams] said my name, and I thought I misheard. Am I meant to be on that team? What a dream, getting to start; an amazing feeling.”
Jephcott’s impressive performances at first-team level were not lost on international selectors, and his already encouraging first season as a pro received another boost when he was called-up to represent Wales Under-19s in the European Championships in the Netherlands.
“It’s different, internationals are another level up - playing against world-class players,” said Luke, who now has several international caps under his belt.
“That Spain side, most of their team were involved in the World Cup final team. It was an unbelievable experience, even though we didn’t get the results we wanted.”
Jephcott is now enjoying a relaxing summer break back home in Cornwall with his family, but he already has more than one eye on next season, where a new manager, and a new league, present a new set of challenges for a young man whose status sits somewhere in the grey area between first-team regular and youth-team prospect.
“Sometimes I’m training with the first-team, then the reserves, then the first-team,” said Luke. “But you’ve just got to put your all in, wherever you train, and hopefully catch the manager’s eye and get in his thoughts.
“A new manager is a new start. We’re all going to be coming in, looking to impress, and get in the manager’s thoughts. I’m confident that we can get back up.”