Sunderland players regularly have a Thursday afternoon off.

As Phil Parkinson usually delivers his pre-match press conference, one or two might be selected to take part in community events, but the rest usually have the afternoon off.

But for two Sunderland players, instead of an opportunity to get home early, they saw it as an opportunity to give something back.

That's why every Thursday afternoon Luke O'Nien and Jordan Willis sit with the Black Cats' under-18 academy players to discuss their experiences and advice try and help out in anyway they can.

The idea was the brainchild of O'Nien, and he explained: "I sat down with some of the staff from the academy and thought that as we're in a privileged position to play football for a living, and play for this club, it's important to give something back.

"Take any player from the Sunderland first team squad, there is a lot of knowledge and life lessons in there which is wasted if they don't pass it on.

"The youth set-up here is fantastic and I feel it's vital we pass on our experiences and life lessons to the young players coming through because it's not easy to make it.

"The stats are always against the youngsters progressing, but if we can pass on little bits of knowledge to help them improve or even help them come through tough situations, then that's what we want to do. It's our duty to help them.

"Myself and Jordan lead on it, we sit down every Thursday with a couple of players from the under-18s squad and talk about things."

The Sunderland first team pair have had contrasting routes that lead them to Wearside.

O'Nien came through the academy at Premier League Watford before deciding to move on in search of first team football at Wycombe Wanderers.

Willis, meanwhile, was at Coventry from a young age, graduating from their youth set-up to become a regular and club captain before joining Sunderland last summer.

In that respect, their differences make them the ideal pair for the mentoring scheme.

On why he agreed to take part, Willis explained: "Luke has really wanted to do it for a while, managed to set it up and asked me if I would join in. Of course I said I would.

"I think it's a big part of the under-18's development. If we can give them life experiences that we've been through, that might help them come through and make it themselves. Hopefully we can help."

O'Nien started the scheme with his own experiences in mind. He came through at Watford and made one appearance for them in the Championship as an 88th minute sub, but admits there were times it was tough, and there was no connection between the youth players and those in the first team.

"We talk about their life, what's going on at home and at work." O'Nien explained. "Willis has played over 200 league games and it's great to hear him talk about challenging times in his life.

"We both try to open up to and be honest about our experiences, because I feel that helps the youngsters reciprocate it and talk about their emotions more openly too.

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"It's important to have interaction with the youngsters because it was something I never had when I came through. I was petrified to speak to the Watford first team players when I was a kid, but to have that connection is important.

Statistically, O'Nien is right - a handful, at best, in the Sunderland youth teams will go on to play first team football at the club. But Sunderland's academy has always prided itself on being more than a factory line of footballing talents. It's about producing good people and setting them up as best as possible for life, be that in football or beyond.

In O'Nien and Willis, those youngsters couldn't have two better mentors with whom to look upto.