Ronan Hughes admits a loan spell at Stirling was an eye-opener which has prepared him to step up to the Hamilton first team.
The 20-year-old spent the second half of last season at the Ladbrokes League Two club and started this campaign in Brian Rice's starting line-up for Saturday's Betfred Cup opener against Queen's Park.
Hughes, whose team face Clyde on Wednesday, said of his loan spell: "It has helped me a lot, I have matured a lot and understand the game a lot more, thanks to everyone at Stirling.
"It's different to playing for the reserves, I needed to play men's football.
"It's a lot more physical. Players will leave a wee kick on you to let you know you are in a different game now but that's part and parcel and you need to deal with that.
"I have got more physical myself. You need to go to the gym, get bigger and stronger and try and be better.
"The experienced boys help you out as well, give you advice."