Steven Pressley admits he is "really excited" by the potential of 16-year-old Carlisle United defender Jarrad Branthwaite.

The Cumbrian teenager was handed a two-year professional deal this week after impressing in youth and reserve games.

Branthwaite, from Wigton, has all the ingredients to have a successful career provided he continues developing in the right way, United's boss believes.

“I really love the development of young players. They are crucial to football clubs. They have a feeling for your club," Pressley said.

“He [Branthwaite] has been here since he was eight years old. He’s a boy that has made a big impression on me in the short time that I’ve been here.

“I think we’ve got a real player on our hands. If he continues to progress and he continues to develop physically, mentally and tactically, we have a really good young player.

“He’s also from a very good, supportive family. That’s one thing that I’m really pleased at, because I think he’ll get the right advice from them, and I think he’s a big prospect for us."

Carlisle-born Branthwaite, a first-year youth player, has figured in two reserve friendlies in the last two weeks.

“He’s only 16, and he was outstanding in the game against Oldham [last week]," Pressley added.

"And considering the players he played against [at Sunderland] on Tuesday I thought he acquitted himself really well.

“He’s a player that’s really exciting me and that’s the truth.

"I believe that, as a player, if you’re good enough you’re old enough.

"He’s training with [the first team squad] every day now at 16 and that’s a really positive sign."

With 17-year-old Liam McCarron having been fast-tracked into the first-team squad, Pressley suggested Branthwaite - who has also featured in midfield for United's under-18 side - may have to wait longer for his senior chance.

But he pledged not to hold the tall youngster back if he continues to make his mark.

“Circumstances always dictate how quickly they play, if you’ve had injuries or opportunities arise," United's boss said.

“He’s training with us every day, he’ll be involved in all the bounce games on Tuesdays, and once I think this kid gets a pre-season under his belt, and really grows into that body, then he excites me.

"I think he’s got a real chance.”

Pressley also said experienced Blues defender Anthony Gerrard had been staying back after training to help Branthwaite with aspects of his game, such as heading.