SCOTT Wharton believes he has returned to Rovers a better player following his loan spell at Cambridge United and hopes a strong pre-season can push his claims for a first team starting-spot.
Wharton played nine times for the Us in the second half of 2016-17 and won praise for his performances for the League Two side.
He made his Rovers breakthrough under Owen Coyle in the early months of the season, but his last outing came in the EFL Cup defeat to Leeds in September.
The 19-year-old was more than happy to agree to Rovers’ request for him to go out on loan in January, and believes his spell with Cambridge has boosted his chances of breaking in to the side in League One.
“I think I have learned a lot, I feel I have come back a better player,” Wharton told the Lancashire Telegraph.
“At the start when I first joined I wasn’t in the side, I had to fight for my shirt.
“It was two or three weeks before I made my debut, then I had a couple of niggles so I had ups and downs during my loan spell which was good for my character and having to get over them.
“I was playing alongside Leon Legge who is a very experienced centre half and Shaun Derry, the manager, I enjoyed playing under him.
“I am just looking forward to getting another good pre-season under my belt.”
Wharton’s spell with Cambridge, who just missed out on a play-off spot, ended earlier this month, and he revealed he has met with Ewood head coach Tony Mowbray since his return to East Lancashire.
Rovers have been keeping a close eye on Wharton’s development during his time out on loan, and as a former centre half, the Salesbury teenager is hoping to learn a lot from Mowbray.
“I spoke to him the other day,” Wharton added. “He said he’d heard bits about me but was just looking for me to come back fit and ready in pre-season.
“I didn’t have much contact with him but I’ve spoken to him since the end of the season.
“Hopefully he will be able to give me a few tips and help me out.”
Wharton took advantage of injuries to Gordon Greer and Elliott Ward early in the season, as well as the departures of Grant Hanley and Shane Duffy, to force his way in to the Rovers team.
He played four times in all, and made a further three appearances in the Checkatrade Trophy, as well as being a regular for Damien Johnson’s Under-23s side prior to his move.
And Wharton said he would recommend a spell out on loan to any young player.
“Playing proper men’s football – you’re not getting that league experience and first-team games so I would definitely recommend it to any young player,” he said.
“It’s helped my game a lot and I’ve come back a better player.”
Wharton will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow Academy graduate Darragh Lenihan who spent time on loan in League Two with Burton Albion in 2015 before returning to Rovers where he has since established himself as a key member of the team.
And Wharton also admits he has learned a lot from training with Scotland international Charlie Mulgrew.
He added: “He (Darragh) has a good season and I definitely look up to someone like him.
“Training with people like Charlie, you just pick up little tips, even from talking to them, obviously playing in your position is a big help having experienced internationals like him.”