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Last Updated: Friday, 1 August, 2003, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Third Division eye catchers
By Paul Fletcher

Pre-season preparations have nearly finished and the Nationwide season is almost upon us.

Division Three is extremely competitive, with so many team starting the season believing promotion is a real possibility.

We spotlight a handful of players to keep an eye out for over the next season.

Dave Kitson - Cambridge

David Kitson in action for Cambridge
Kitson is a prolific scorer
Dave Kitson is about to start his third season as a professional footballer after joining from non-league Arlesey Town in 2001.

If he repeats the form he showed last season he is sure to attract the attention of Premiership scouts, who have already shown an interest in monitoring the progress of the rangy striker.

The 23-year-old scored 25 goals last season, with just one coming from the penalty spot, and also racked up 11 assists throughout the season.

Kitson, unmistakable with his shock of red hair, is still developing as a professional footballer but manager John Taylor will be hoping his goals can spearhead a promotion campaign.

Justin Jackson - Doncaster

Julian Jackson
Jackson wants to make his mark in Division Three
Justin Jackson had a disappointing campaign, despite Doncaster winning promotion last season.

The 28-year-old's season was ended by injury in February and he missed the club's successful push for promotion.

But Rovers' record signing at 150,000 is a veteran of the Nationwide Conference having played for Morecambe, Rushden & Diamonds and Halifax as well as Doncaster.

He also has League experience following spells at Notts County and Rotherham and is hungry to make his mark this season.

Leon Cort - Southend

Leon Cort in action for Southend
Cort is a rapidly maturing defender
Leon Cort is the younger brother of Newcastle striker Carl.

Unlike his elder sibling, Leon is more concerned with stopping goals than scoring them, but nevertheless scored a hat-trick in his team's 4-2 win over Boston United.

A tall central defender who is maturing with every season, Cort started his career at Dulwich Hamlet before joining Millwall in 1998.

Loan spells at Forest Green and Stevenage followed before Cort signed for Southend in 2001 and he is now close to 100 League appearances for the Shrimpers.

David Graham - Torquay

David Graham could retire tomorrow secure in the knowledge that his place in the Torquay hall of fame is guaranteed.

The Scottish striker was on the scoresheet for the Gulls on the final day of the 2001 season when Torquay defeated Barnet to avoid relegation from the League.

Graham, who started his career at Glasgow Rangers, is quick across the ground, has a real eye for goal and links well with his team-mates.

He raced to 13 goals before Christmas last season before injury and suspension problems hindered the second half of his campaign.

At 24, Graham has reached the stage in his career where he needs to consistently produce his best form - and if he does the Gulls could cause a few surprises this season.

Simon Downer - Leyton Orient

Simon Downer in action for Leyton Orient
Downer suffered a serious knee injury
Big things were expected from Simon Downer last season but a serious injury ended his campaign in October.

Downer's knee ligament injury was followed by tendinitis of his patella, which caused inflammation on his left knee and needed two operations to finally cure.

At one point the 22-year-old central defender was considering retiring but was persuaded against doing so.

Extremely mature for his age, Downer is not only strong in the air but accomplished on the ground and prior to injury seemed destined to play at a higher level.

If he can recapture the form he showed prior to injury Premiership scouts are sure to be returning to Brisbane Road on a regular basis.

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