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Rochdale snap up former AFC Sudbury Academy player Jesper Laurence following impressive trial




AFC Sudbury Academy are celebrating a fourth player progressing from their programme into a professional club after Jesper Laurence signed for Sky Bet League Two outfit Rochdale.

Laurence, who turns 18 later this month, arrived at the Suffolk club as a central midfielder last summer, having previously played for Heybridge Swifts Under-16s in the Eastern Junior Alliance.

But Sudbury’s coaches believed his attributes could best be utilised as a centre-back and successfully converted him.

Jesper Laurence in action for AFC Sudbury in their Suffolk Boys' U18s Midweek Cup semi-final victory over Ipswich Wanderers in which he scored a goal in an 11-0 victory at Needham Market FC Picture: Mecha Morton
Jesper Laurence in action for AFC Sudbury in their Suffolk Boys' U18s Midweek Cup semi-final victory over Ipswich Wanderers in which he scored a goal in an 11-0 victory at Needham Market FC Picture: Mecha Morton

Laurence, who is also known for his monster long throw-ins, estimated to reach 35 yards, featured in his new position to great effect as Sudbury coasted to another Suffolk U18s’ Boys Midweek Cup success in May.

“He was probably on the radar of a few clubs due to his physical profile,” said U18s head coach Craig Power of the player who has joined the scholars at the north west League Two club.

“He left our programme (in the summer) to join East Thurrock and played a few first-team games and from there went into Rochdale two or three weeks ago and they decided to take him on.

Jesper Laurence, far left, celebrates a goal from Jack Turner in AFC Sudbury's Suffolk U18s' Boys Midweek Cup Final victory over Leiston at Needham Market FC Picture: Mecha Morton
Jesper Laurence, far left, celebrates a goal from Jack Turner in AFC Sudbury's Suffolk U18s' Boys Midweek Cup Final victory over Leiston at Needham Market FC Picture: Mecha Morton

“I think it is a great achievement for Jesper, particularly due to how few games he played at centre-half which speaks volumes about his mindset.”

Laurence follows on from Tyler French (Bradford City, now at Wrexham), Ross Crane (Ipswich Town via Bury Town) and, most recently, Liam Bennett (Cambridge United via St Neots Town) in joining the pro ranks.

Power added: “We converted him to a centre-half in the last half of last year and he played in the county cup final there for us. It sounds strange in a 7-1 victory to pick out a defender but I thought he played really well that night.

“From an academy point of view it is great to have another professional football signed up.

Jesper Laurence competes for the ball in the Leiston penalty area during AFC Sudbury's Suffolk U18s' Boys Midweek Cup Final Picture: Mecha Morton
Jesper Laurence competes for the ball in the Leiston penalty area during AFC Sudbury's Suffolk U18s' Boys Midweek Cup Final Picture: Mecha Morton

“It speaks volumes about the staff here as, bar Liam Bennett, they have all arrived in one position and then been converted into another. Tyler was a centre-forward and Craney was playing higher up the pitch than he was when he left us.

“It shows the work that is done here daily to give the boys the best opportunity to go into professional football.”

He revealed Laurence had been approached about joining Sudbury’s full-time BTEC academy programme after he shone in a pre-season friendly playing for Heybridge against the Yellows’ under-16s.

Jesper Laurence, back right, celebrates with his AFC Sudbury Academy team-mates following their Suffolk U18s' Boys Midweek Cup Final victory over Leiston in May Picture: Mecha Morton
Jesper Laurence, back right, celebrates with his AFC Sudbury Academy team-mates following their Suffolk U18s' Boys Midweek Cup Final victory over Leiston in May Picture: Mecha Morton

Of his strengths, Power said: “He is an aggressive centre-half who is quite good in the air.

“His physicality is really good for his age and he has good movement.

“Having played a lot of his youth football in midfield, his distribution is very good for a centre-half. And he can also throw a ball 30-35 yard which is a good bonus to have and a weapon we obviously used.”

He added: “He has just taken everything on board here and got in our best under-18s side last year on merit as a first year.”

Meanwhile, after impressing on his recent Cambridge United senior debut in the EFL Trophy, Liam Bennett has been loaned out to Vanarama National League South side Hemel Hempstead.

The Great Cornard-based player featured in the Non-League Paper’s Team of the Week following Saturday’s 2-2 home draw with Eastbourne Borough.

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