Published: 06:00, 23 August 2019
Simon Austin sees big potential in Maidstone's new under-23 development side.
Joint-bosses Austin and Kane Rice - two former Stones players - are aiming to help their young guns progress to the first team.
Austin is confident it can be done.
He said: "We're honest with everyone and if we didn't feel they had a chance, they wouldn't be in the squad.
"We think every player has the ability and a chance to make their way through to the first team in two to three years.
"We haven't got a lot of 22 or 23-year-olds, we have 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, so they have time on their side.
"But, as we say to them, if it doesn't happen here, it could always be another club at a decent level."
The Stones started their Suburban League campaign with a 2-1 defeat at Bracknell Reserves on Saturday but there were plenty of encouraging signs.
Mason Burstow scored and hit the woodwork four times as the visitors grew into the match after a slow start.
Austin said: "We were a little bit sloppy in the first half.
"There were a few nerves out there from some of the lads, where it was their first time representing Maidstone.
"Second half we settled down and played our football.
"We lost but we created so many chances, hitting the bar twice and the post twice.
"We proved in that second half we're more than capable of competing at that level."
Fans not following the first team to Concord this Saturday can watch the development side in action at the Gallagher.
Met Police Reserves are the visitors for the first home league game of the season, kick-off 3pm.
Austin said: "We had 90-odd at our last friendly and if we can get a couple of hundred through the gate, that's something you can't replicate in a training session."
For Austin, it will be a first competitive home game since leaving the club as a player 12 years ago.
Much has changed since Austin's four-year spell with the Stones ended in 2007 - the Gallagher Stadium didn't exist for a start - but in other ways it's like he never left.
He said: "It's completely changed in one sense, with the fantastic facilities, but there's still a lot of familiar faces.
"We've settled back in really well. Everyone's been welcoming."
There's no doubt about Austin's finest hour in a Stones shirt - his match-winning double in a 2-1 FA Cup victory over Redbridge in 2004.
Redbridge played three levels above Alan Walker and Lloyd Hume's Kent League side and led 1-0 but Austin turned the tie on its head in the second half, capped by an 89th-minute strike.
"Maidstone fans still bring it up," said Austin. "It's funny because Lloyd and Walks were going to bring me off before I scored the first goal.
"They left me on and I ended up scoring the winner as well.
"It was a massive high in my time at Maidstone."
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More by this authorCraig Tucker