American midfielder Nick Taitague has thanked Schalke for the faith they continue to show him after being promoted to the first team for pre-season training.
The 21-year-old signed a one-year contract extension in February 2020, however, and has been assigned the No.29 shirt ahead of the 2020/21 Bundesliga campaign.
"It feels great," Taitague told the Schalke website of his new role as fully fledged first-team member.
"I didn't have any problems settling in and was right into it straight away. As a youth-team player, I was accepted really well by the guys. They all showed me that they were pleased that I was there.
"Despite the hard work in pre-season, I'm enjoying every day."
Taitague admits the initial move from his native Virginia to Germany's industrial heartland was difficult at first, though having compatriots Weston McKennie and Haji Wright around smoothed the transition.
"Weston in particular became a really good friend of mine very quickly," he recalled. "Together with Haji, he was a big reason that I settled in so easily."
Now, with McKennie set to spend the new season on loan at Juventus, and Haji Wright having left the club in 2019, Taitague has assumed the role of mentor for a new wave of Americans at Schalke.
"This time it was me who had been living in Germany a little longer," Taitague said.
"I travelled to training a lot with Matthew in the past few months, so we got to talk a lot. We all support each other."
Taitague has had his injury troubles at Schalke, but says he is ready to reward the club for their continued patience and words of encouragement with his performances on the pitch.
"There were days when I would ask myself if I really have what it takes to play at the top level, but I'm a positive person and always told myself that I would come back and that I can realise my dream. Giving up was never an option.
"The club have shown that they believe in me and see me as part of the team. I'm very grateful for that and want to repay the faith."
Taitague, who represented North Carolina FC and FC Richmond as a teenager, has registered five goals and seven assists in 43 appearances across the Schalke U19s and 23 teams.
Although an attacking midfielder by trade, he can also play out wide or in a more central role, à la McKennie.
"In the USA I played mostly in attacking midfield, and with Schalke U19s I played in spells on the wing. With the first team, I’ve played deeper, as a centre midfielder and love going into one-on-ones. That is one of my biggest strengths."
Taitague could make his first-team debut as early as 13 September, when Schalke take on the Bavaria League winner in the DFB Cup first round. Should he feature in the Bundesliga in 2020/21, the 23-time US youth international could become the 59th American to grace the German top flight.