The tragic death of Ryan Evans cut short a big career in the game according to his Mansfield Town coach.
The 18-year-old, who captained the Stags’ U18 performance group, had just accepted a place in the club’s U21 programme for next season.
He passed away at his Swadlincote home in Derbyshire, devastating everyone at the One Call Stadium.
Jamie McGuire first became aware of Evans due to his goalscoring exploits in the Stags’ youth set-up.
The academy coach said: “I came across Ryan when I was in the first team four years ago.
“I was taking an interest in coaching and the players around the youth team and he was in the Under 15s or 16s at the time.
“He caught my eye because he was scoring a lot of goals.
“I went into coaching side with the academy and I was to become his coach, which was a great opportunity for me.”
Whilst Evans’ goalscoring prowess was what made McGuire first take notice, it was the player’s personality that really made him stand out among his peers.
And his attitude made him the perfect player to coach.
“You try and identify a captain or a leader and he was the perfect example; bubbly, enthusiastic, everything you would want in a leader,” said McGuire.
“The boys looked up to him.
“I was a character myself, loud in the changing rooms and when I crossed the white line I meant business – Ryan was the same.
“That’s why I identified him as captain. He was always with the banter and the music, having fun, but in training he flicked a switch.
“He was always like ‘what’s next?’
“That’s the kind of character he was, asking what do you want me to improve?
“He was so enthusiastic and wanted to learn so much.”
In McGuire’s opinion, Evans would have gone on to have a good career in the game.
The striker had come on leaps and bounds with the U18s and was tipped for big things in the next age group and beyond.
“Ryan had a huge amount of natural ability and talent.
“His progress in the performance group was massive.
“He had taken up a place in the U21 programme, which us as coaches felt he would excel in.
“He had a big career ahead of him, I’m sure he would have been a goalscoring sensation and would have brought something special to any team he played for.”
What the youngster had achieved both on and off the pitch was the subject of a long phone call between McGuire and Evans’ father.
Although the coach didn’t initially want to intrude on the family’s grief, he’s glad they have now had the chance to talk and share their memories of Ryan.
“I didn’t really want to phone them, it’s such a hard time for them, so I left it three or four days but his dad contacted me and we had an hour or an hour and a half talking about his life and how he did in football.
“We had a really good chat and I’m in contact with his dad now.”
Evans’ death has obviously had a profound impact on the club, particularly his former team-mates.
McGuire is having to help guide them through this traumatic time, while himself trying to come to terms with what has happened.
“I’m still in shock now.
“It’s been tough, the lads haven’t taken it well to be honest.
“It’s a difficult one. They’ve been together since they were 11 years of age, it’s been so hard.
“I’ve been phoning them every day to make sure they’re okay. It’s difficult.
“He’s such a loss for us all.”