For Sorba Thomas, it all happened in the blink of an eye.
One minute, he was living with his parents in London. The next, he was up to Yorkshire in a flat in Huddersfield by himself.
And there were some early difficulties.
“The apartment I moved into had no TV, and no Wi-Fi!” Thomas tells Sky Sports. “For a lad of my age, Wi-Fi is very important. I had to talk to the wall by myself for a bit to have fun. But I’m really enjoying living by myself now.”
That wasn’t the only big change in his life in January. Still just 21 at the time (but now 22), Thomas moved from National League side Boreham Wood to the Championship. Three tiers leapt, from non-league to the professional game.
“I moved out of my parents’ house and had to grow up very, very quickly,” he says. “At the start, I needed a bit of time getting used to being in the professional environment – going from three days a week to nearly seven a week. It has been a massive change for me.
“But every day has been a dream come true to be playing in professional football.”
Safe to say the move has worked out. One goal and four assists in five appearances saw him named the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month for August.
He has become a fan favourite very quickly at the John Smith’s Stadium in a whirlwind 2021.
“The summer before it looked like I would be going to Charlton, but that didn’t go through,” he remembers. “It was disappointing but I just said to myself it was about getting back on the pitch and doing what I do best with Boreham Wood. And waiting for another opportunity to come along.
“Then, I remember getting a call on New Year’s Eve from the owner and manager at Boreham Wood and them telling me, ‘you’re a Huddersfield Town player’. I couldn’t even tell you the emotions going through my head at that moment. It was amazing. I told my mum and she was in tears. It was some moment for me and my family.”
Thomas was limited to a string of substitute appearances at the back end of last season, as it took him a while to adapt to the new level. But patience and application have paid off, and he has established himself as a key man in a Huddersfield side that have started the season well.
“I back my ability 100 per cent to play for any team anywhere, but coming in to train here was a shock because I was used to such a different style of play, and a different type of manager,” he says.
“At first there was so much to take in, but I felt the more the manager and the experienced players spoke to me and helped to advise me, the stronger I would get. I feel like I caught the eye of the coaching staff and the people at the club, and I showed everyone what I was about.
“I never thought I’d be playing nearly every game of the season, but the more I play, the more I learn, and the better I get. To gain experience you have to play games.”
Thomas hasn’t just played games this season, he has lit them up. And he has done it from a variety of positions. He has been used on both sides of the pitch by Carlos Corberan, as a winger and as a wing-back.
Wherever he is deployed, it doesn’t seem to faze him in the slightest. He just wants to play and perform, and sees it all as a learning experience.
“Wherever the manager wants me to play, I’ll play and I’ll put in 100 per cent to show my ability – whether that’s as a wing-back or a winger on either side,” says Thomas. “Nowadays you have to be versatile, as that’s what managers want. You are limiting yourself by only being able to play in one position. I don’t see myself as having one position.
“Playing as a wing-back has also helped me defensively, because you’ve got to do more than when you’re a winger. For example I never really used to mark on set-pieces before, I was always at the other end of the pitch trying to launch the counter. The manager has helped improve me as a player.”
Released by West Ham as a youngster, Thomas had to do it the hard way. He re-joined the game with Boreham Wood as a 16-year-old and worked his socks off to get noticed.
And his experience in non-league means he appreciates everything that is happening to him, making him something of a breath of fresh air.
“Growing up I was only ever good at football,” he says. “It’s all I ever wanted. So to be getting told you’re not good enough hit me really hard, because I’d never been told that before. When it happened I threw my boots and shin pads in the bin!
“But I spoke to friends and family, and they gave me the confidence to start again, to go to Boreham Wood and to work from the bottom to get to the top.
“Some people have come through the ranks and the system where it was put on a plate for them. You see players at the top teams in the world and they’ll be my age and haven’t played any first-team football. They’ll play under-23s and think they’re the best thing since sliced bread.
“In non-league you quickly realise how hard you have to work for everything. You are often playing against players who have another job to go to after a game. I had to coach to keep myself going financially. It helped me so much to grow.
“Right now I look back on it and think that being released at a young age is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
The next best thing to happen to Thomas could be just around the corner. His form in the Championship has seen him tipped to be called up by Wales in the next international break in October.
In under a year, he could well go from lining up in non-league to playing alongside Gareth Bale and Co.
“It would make me and my family so proud,” he says. “To even be on the radar of my country when this time last year they probably didn’t even know who I was is a dream come true for me.
“I hope that dream can become a reality.”
Thomas has done a lot of that lately. You certainly wouldn’t back against him doing it again.