JACK Stevens and Miles Welch-Hayes have become Oxford United’s newest professionals after putting pen to paper on their contracts this afternoon.

The pair impressed during their time with the U’s youth team and were offered 12-month deals in April.

The formalities were completed today, joining striker George Jeacock, who signed last week.

With United securing the future of centre back Canice Carroll earlier in the season, it means four teenagers will make the step up into Michael Appleton’s first team squad this summer.

It is a big moment for goalkeeper Stevens, who had been in the set-ups at Chelsea and Barnet but was released for being too small.

But after a growth spurt he was picked up two years ago by United to work with goalkeeping coach Wayne Brown and the youngster from Curridge, near Newbury, has been on the bench for the first team four times since joining.

Oxford Mail:

  • Jack Stevens warms up with Oxford United's first team at Plymouth Argyle in March

He said: “This is what I’ve always wanted.

“After all the hard work since I was eight, to sign a first professional deal means a lot.

“I just want to keep kicking on to see how far I can go.

“Browny has helped me so much over the two years and I can’t thank him enough for how much work he’s put into me.

“I just look forward to working with him again and getting better.”

For Welch-Hayes the wait has been even longer, having spent three years with the youth team.

At 16 it was felt the right back from Wolvercote was not quite ready to play under 18s football, but United instead put him into their YDS course.

It allowed him an extra year and after going on to have loan spells at North Leigh and Banbury United this season, Welch-Hayes has earned a professional contract.

The 19-year-old said: “It’s helped me a lot.

“They said I was too small and I needed to get stronger so I got sent out on loan to play against men week-in, week-out.

“It’s really good because when I came back to play youth team games I’d say I was one of the stronger people on the pitch.

“I’ve started doing fitness already, I’ve been in the gym every day since we broke up.

“I’m working hard because there’s a big season ahead of me – I need to make sure I’m ready and ahead of the other players.

“Everyone has said to me ‘the hard work starts now’.

“I’ve got a year’s contract and I need to work to get another one by proving to the gaffer I’m capable.”

Oxford Mail:

  • Miles Welch-Hayes helped Banbury United win promotion from Evo-Stik Southern League Division 1 South & West