Jason Hicks was taken aback when told he had been named ASB Premiership player of the month and having his impressive start to the season further underlined when he was named in the team of the month.
Hicks, 20, is in good company with five players from runaway leaders Waitakere United named in the XI with coach of the month Neil Emblen. Hicks played at Waitakere last season going all the way to the Youth League final and also getting some time at senior level against Team Wellington.
Pressed on why he had switched his allegiance down State Highway 1 to join a Waikato team who bumbled through much of last season and eventually finishing last - five points adrift of the team above them - Hicks said simply: "I wanted some game time".
No longer eligible for the ASB Youth League, Emblen could not guarantee the former Long Bay College first XI regular first team soccer at Fred Taylor Park so Hicks switched "Freds" to link with Willy Gerdsen and Rod Grove at Fred Jones Park.
"I wanted to get out and play and enjoy my football," said Hicks. "I have started every game so far and have played all but about 10 minutes. Willy encourages us to attack which suits my game as I like to play an attacking midfield role just in behind the strikers.
"We are doing okay with Nathan Palmer, Milos Nikolic, Sam Margetts and when he is fit, Dan Peat up front. Willy's game plan is based on attack and counter-attack and so far we have done quite well."
After five rounds Waikato are in fourth place but only a point behind second-placed Canterbury United who they drew 2-2 with away on Sunday.
Hicks has scored two of his team's nine goals along with the two he bagged in the 2-1 win over Wellington Phoenix A a month ago.
Voting from media and opposition coaches identified Hicks as a consistent standout for his side, even in the disappointing loss to Team Wellington.
There is a certain irony in Hicks linking with Gerdsen. As a youngster he first kicked a ball at East Coast Bays, working his way through the junior ranks before, at 12 years old, moving around the corner to play at Albany. In his latter years at Bays he was spotted by Gerdsen and although he went on to play elsewhere on the North Shore, Gerdsen obviously remembered and liked what he had seen.
Tomorrow he and his teammates, many of whom make the twice-weekly trip to train in Hamilton, get the chance to test themselves against the Big Boys when Waitakere come to town.
As well as Emblen, Hicks will come face-to-face with other players he played with in Waitakere's youth side a year ago.
Given Waitakere's winning five-from-five start to the season which has already taken them seven points clear of the pack, the other premiership teams will be hoping Hicks and his new-found teammates can stop that run and bring the West Aucklanders back to the field.By Terry Maddaford Email Terry