The age of 18 is often seen as a make-or-break stage in a young footballer’s career.
The youngsters are battling it out for a prized professional contract which could eventually open doors to them becoming a big name in the game.
But Chorley FC’s Mark Ross never had the opportunity to be with a professional club as a youngster.
Instead, the defender went down a different route to make his dream happen and play professional football.
He said: “I haven’t had the usual story of playing for a professional youth team when I was younger.
“I’ve always been jealous of the lads who did and the stories they tell, but it also gave me different opportunities.
“When I was 18 and left college, I got a scholarship for a USA college team Rio Grande in Ohio and I moved out there.
“So when the time came when a lot of my footballing friends were signing contracts back home, I was still enjoying myself but in a whole different environment.”
After a year at college, Ross again had the urge to play professionally and this dream was realised by securing a deal in New Orleans.
He said: “After college , I went to live in New Orleans for two seasons, playing for different teams.
“The experience was ridiculous and I got to travel the whole country doing what I love to do best.”
After returning to this country, the 25-year-old had a short stint with Rossendale before linking up with current boss Garry Flitcroft at Leigh Genesis.
Ross then followed Flitcroft to Chorley, and immediately made and impact as he was part of the Evo-Stik Division One North title-winning team.
But last season saw limited opportunities for him with the Magpies due to a number of new signings.
So during last summer of 2013, he took the decision to leave Victory Park and seek opportunities at a higher level.
He said: “I’ve always wanted to play at the highest standard possible and more importantly regularly, as I can do.
“Last season saw Kieran Walmsley signed at right-back and our captain Andy Teague is in another position I play in.
“I felt if there was ever a time to try to give playing at a higher level a go, it was then.”
Ross took advantage of an open training session at FC Halifax Town to put himself in the shop window and made an impact straight away.
But nothing is ever set
in stone in football and he
was dealt a big blow when Halifax announced they were making yet another defensive signing.
He added: “I was chosen to train with Halifax after that open trial, working my way down from 100 or so trialists to get that opportunity.
“But after doing well, I got told they were in the middle of signing a defender from Luton so I lost my place.
“I then went to Stalybridge, but being in full-time work, I couldn’t give up my job as I had just started my own business.”
But Ross didn’t have to look far to find another club as he was welcomed with open arms back at Chorley.
He added: “I didn’t want to leave but I wanted to try myself at a higher level.
“It was very easy returning and when I made the decision, it immediately felt right.
“I had my mates back around me and also the plans that Garry had put in place.”
Since his return, Ross has drawn the plaudits both on and off the pitch with his consistent performances and versatility being praised by all.
And he himself is delighted and has his sights set on a championship-winning season with the Magpies.
He said: “We all want to win the league this season.
“I’m so determined to get into the Conference North with Chorley.I cant wait for new challenges and I know the rest of the lads are all in the same mindset.
“And a win at the Reebok in the Lancashire FA Trophy next month will boost the post-season celebrations too.
“Individually I just want to keep my place in the team and help us get there anyway I can.
“I’m very happy and lucky to be playing a big part in this season’s campaign after returning to Chorley.
“So when asked what position I would rather play in out of right-back or centre-back, I don’t care as long as I’m playing.
“I’ve always been a central defender mainly,but Garry and Mike Quigley have helped me a lot moulding me into an attacking full-back.”
Ross, who lives in Bolton, also has special praise for Chorley’s 12th man – the crowd – and praised the job they do off the pitch.
He said: “I can’t believe the fan base at Chorley recently, shown at the away games at Tamworth and Forest Green.
“The support is ridiculous and the lads can’t thank the supporters enough as it brings a real buzz to games and lifts everyone up.”
Business owner Mark didn’t just benefit from a professional deal in his America.
His time in the States saw him become a fitness fanatic as the professional game focused heavily on strength and fitness.
And that interest has led to him being a joint owner in his company Just Results.
He said: “I’ve been a personal trainer I came back from the USA and I’m constantly researching,learning and training clients and myself to get better.
“I worked for a large gym company which has helped me a lot, but natural progression is always to leave and set up something for yourself.
“So late last year me, Aaron Grundy the Chorley keeper and two other lads, broke free of employment and have tried our luck at our own gym.
“It’s for people who want to be trained in the correct way, and we all put maximum effort in to the job and target.
“We want to be a big thing the Blackrod and Bolton area.”