By Jonteau Coppin
Barbados Soccer Academy graduate Jaylan Gilkes has earned a scholarship to Essex County College in New Jersey, USA, becoming the academy’s 38th scholarship winner in the process. Speaking in a phone interview with Barbados TODAY the defensive midfielder said he was delighted to receive his scholarship and eager to get started next month. The nineteen-year-old stated: “It’s an amazing feeling because it was a goal of mine for a very long time.”
Gilkes began his journey in football travelling to watch his father play the game. After the matches were finished, he’d have a kick-around of his own and very soon he realised he loved playing football. What he probably didn’t realise at the time was that he would be good at it. His youth football development started at the White Hall Football Club and the Alexandra School and then later in sixth form at the Combermere School.
Known for his composure on the ball, he represented the Barbados national Under-15, 17, 20 and 23 teams. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though for Jaylan. When he went to trials at U-15 level he wasn’t deemed good enough to be part of the squad. Describing what it was like to be snubbed, Gilkes said it was the “biggest challenge I’ve faced so far” but the rejection didn’t discourage him. Later that year, he earned a place outright when he was called up to the squad. Gilkes saw representing Barbados as an honour and something not to be taken lightly. He stressed: “You always have to give of your best and be willing to work hard because there are many people out there who would love the opportunity to represent their country.”
Growing up as an avid Manchester United fan, Gilkes idolised Wayne Rooney like many did. Rooney’s overall world class ability and sheer confidence to try and succeed at the most audacious things on a football field captured his intrigue. That confidence is something Gilkes admitted didn’t always come naturally to him but was fostered by the approval of his coaches, particularly Renaldo Gilkes whose concise instructions Jaylan credited as having the biggest impact on him. Gilkes was a constant presence as he progressed through the ranks.
A cherished moment Gilkes recalled, was scoring what he said felt like “a goal of the season contender”. Against Guadeloupe in the Under-15 CONCACAF Championship, he won the ball back twenty-five yards out from goal, advanced past three defenders and finished with the outside of his right boot into the bottom left corner. He described the feeling of scoring that goal as one of sheer ecstasy and the one he holds as his proudest moment as a footballer.
In the 2020 season, he went on to represent Weymouth Wales Football Club, a decision that would lead to him getting a scholarship, though that was not his intention. His former national coach Renaldo Gilkes invited him to train with them and the chance to play alongside such experienced and talented players was one he couldn’t turn down.
A player he has been particularly impressed with is Mario Williams whose technique and range of passing continue to amaze him. Gilkes’ performances for Weymouth Wales very quickly caught the attention of Barbados Soccer Academy director Jabez “Jack” Bovell. Bovell was impressed by the array of abilities he possessed as a defensive midfielder but most importantly his attitude. Bovell described him as “focused and committed, always willing to go the extra mile”. His work rate matched by his ability on the ball convinced Bovell to make some calls overseas to various colleges in the United States, eventually coming to an agreement with Essex County College.
Next month Gilkes will be starting his scholarship in New Jersey, where he will be studying Business Administration. His aim is to obtain his degree and continue to develop as a footballer so that he can play professionally or semi-professionally anywhere in the world. With his steely determination and ability, there is no telling what Jaylan can achieve in the future.