David Hicks says the absence of an U21 side at Stevenage means non-league loans are invaluable if a young player is to make the breakthrough in League One.

The Boro youngster spent two brief spells in the Isthmian League Premier Division with Potters Bar Town, and he believes it was partly thanks to them that he earned a pro deal at the Lamex.

And he is certain that is the path more youngsters will have to take.

Speaking to Potters Bar's media, he said: "I think every young player needs to go on loan to get that experience, especially if, like Stevenage, you don't have an U21 team.

"Going to a men's team and getting that experience is invaluable if you want to play in the EFL.

"There is no possible way you can go from U18 football straight into the first team in League One.

"The experience that every player needs is in non-league, whether it is step three, step two or step one."

And while he says composure was never an issue for him, his time with the Scholars literally was a lesson in other areas.

"Off the field I'm a quiet lad," he said. "I keep myself to myself and I don't like to brag about what I am or what I do.

"But when I get onto the pitch I am a completely different person.

You have to be vocal in midfield and if you shy away from it, people will target you in non-league. That's what I found out in my first couple of games.

"When I started to be more vocal and get on the ball, people started to step off me, they didn't want to play against me.

"That's what helped me and that's what I came to understand.

"I'm not the biggest and so if I'm vocal and put myself about, win challenges, win headers, people realise I can be physical.

"When I'm on the ball, I don't panic, there's no need. I know there will always be an option.

"There's either going to be someone running in the channel or there is someone coming to get the ball played into their feet.

"I think composure is something every in football needs. If you're not, you will be panicking all the time and worrying about what is behind you and where you can pass the next ball.

"I always have a picture in my mind."

His confidence was also given a boost when he was tasked with delivering free-kick and corners, something he wasn't initially delighted with.

Hicks said: "I went in and they put me straight onto set-pieces. I didn't want to take them because I know how key they are in the non-league.

"Even in the EFL, you see Stevenage score loads from set-pieces.

"So I didn't want to but Leigh [Rose] said go do it and we nearly scored from it. From then I didn't want to be taken off them.

"It helped my game and helped my numbers. I got assists from them."

The correct environment is often crucial when it comes to a non-league loan spell but having Nick Mountford as coach and Max Mitchell as manager, as well as the warm welcome, helped make his time in maroon a good one.

And he got to embrace the jeopardy of senior football, where winning matters.

The youngster said: "I am more of a technical player, I want to get on the ball and pass it as much as I possibly can, but when you get to men's games and it is all about winning and getting three points, it doesn't matter how you play as long as you do.

"You could have a poor performance or an unbelievable performance, as long as you win, that's all that matters.

"At the academy at Stevenage, we pass it out from the back and play it through the midfield.

"When I got to Potters Bar, we tried different things. When we played football, we looked good, but we had to adapt to games at times.

"If it was of benefit to us to go into the channels or play balls over the top, that's what we did and it helped us a lot and pushed it up the table.

"We played the football that got us up the league.

"There were good players at Bar last year to adapt to anything.

"Leigh Rose was very welcoming and just what I needed in midfield, Brandon Adams as a striker was key to the team, Ore Bello was very good and Rickie Hayles at the back was solid, vocal and would talk me through a game like Leigh."

Injury curtailed his second spell in January but it came after he made his first-team debut and first pro deal.

And he revealed the pride he and his family had in that moment.

"I've been [at Stevenage a long time]," he said. "I was at Cheshunt as a youngster but joined Stevenage U10s and got contract after contract.

"I got made a scholar and in my first year, there were players that were better than me.

"I wasn't physical, I was a quiet lad, more quiet on the pitch than I am now but that comes with experience.

"In my second year I got the opportunity [in pre-season] with the first-team and I just took it. I didn't have another option, I knew I had to take it.

"I played against Hitchin in my first game and I did really well and then I played the whole of pre-season.

"I was on the bench against Exeter in the Carabao Cup, I was on the bench against Wimbledon in the EFL Trophy and then I came on against Crystal Palace.

"They offered me a pro deal and I know how hard I've worked, and my family have seen how hard I've worked.

"It was a shame that the injury came when it did but you can't help that in football.

"I played 45 minutes for the U18s against Orient on the last day of the season and I scored so that was a good game to come back in it.

"I'm in the gym most days at the minute and I feel ready to go for the new season."