Despite having made nine appearances this season, Hearts defender Jamie Brandon admits he will not be classed as a fully-fledged member of the first team until he is allocated a seat in the senior changing room.
The 19-year-old still sits among his under-20s team-mates during the week at the club’s Oriam training base, even though he has become a regular in the squad since making his debut on the final day of last term against Celtic.
Graduation from the 20s’ dressing room also comes with its privileges, and Brandon can expect to have his boots cleaned by one of the academy prospects after revealing he is tasked with looking after fellow defender Michael Smith’s.
The former Rangers trainee, who is keen to build on his man of the match performance against Partick Thistle when Ross County make the trip to Tynecastle today, said: “I’m still in the 20s changing room and whenever I don’t play for the first team I play for the 20s to keep my game time up. It’s good.
“When you’re still in the 20s changing room, it reminds you you’ve still got a bit to go because the first-team changing room is where you want to be.
“The 20s changing room is really good though – I’ve been with those boys for a year and a half, and it’s a really good laugh.
“Rory Currie was the last one who moved up to the first-team changing room.
“Everybody wants to get the move up.
“It’s a bigger changing room and it’s obviously better to get the move up.
“You just pick your bag up and go when your told to go up to the first team.
“The main difference is probably that when you’re in the 20s dressing room you’re still doing jobs and I clean Michael Smith’s boots.”
Levein has shown that he has no hesitation in playing any of the promising youngsters if they are good enough, having handed appearances to the likes of Harry Cochrane (16), Euan Henderson (17), Daniel Baur (18) and Aidan Keena (18) and Lewis Moore (19) this season.
Brandon, who joined from Rangers in summer 2016, believes he is in the right place to develop as a player.
He added: “There’s a great atmosphere about the 20s squad at the moment because so many of the boys are coming through and getting a chance.
“I can see a bright future for the club. There are some great young players here so hopefully we can all keep kicking on and developing as players.
“I’m just glad the gaffer has faith in us and trusts us to go out and perform in games. There’s not much more you can ask for from the gaffer. He’s great for us.”
The quality of Brandon’s eye-catching performance in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Thistle was all the more impressive given that the teenager had been laid low through illness during the week.
He added: “I think it was my best performance to date in a Hearts strip, so I need to keep trying to produce performances like that.
“I don’t know why I played so well – sometimes you just go out and have a really good game.
“I’ve been training hard, so hopefully that’s a sign it’s paying off.
“I only found out about an hour and 20 minutes before that I was starting.
“I had been hoping the game was on because I was looking forward to the first game back at Tynecastle.
“I’d actually been off ill for four days last week and I only came back in on the Friday.”