On one Tuesday evening in January Macaulay Tait got into his parents' car.

"Went alright, eh?"

While fans of Heart of Midlothian were waxing lyrical about their teenage midfielder, the 18-year-old, certainly on the surface, remained his usual level-headed self. If there was any emotion bubbling under the surface he, like most teenagers, kept it well hidden from his parents.

Earlier that night on the Tynecastle Park pitch he had provided a match-changing contribution. Hearts had roared back in the second half to win 3-2 against Dundee having trailed 2-0 at the break. His introduction from the bench was the "catalyst" according to head coach Steven Naismith.

It was a stand-up-and-take-notice performance from the midfielder. He had been handed his debut in the win at Celtic Park in December, demonstrating his composure in the box to win a foul. He got on against St Mirren and was very close to scoring. But, on that Tuesday in January, he was asked to step in for Beni Baningime and step up for the team. He delivered.

In his five appearances, the Gorgie faithful have had a taste of what is to come from a teenage talent who could become the lynchpin at the heart of the team for years after signing a deal that will keep him at the club until 2028.

READ MORE: How Steven Naismith wants Hearts to get better at producing academy talent

Since Tait was a very young age a football has never been far from his control. Macaulay's dad John still remembers his first introduction to a semblance of organised football at Arniston Rangers in the mini-kickers. Aged just four, a young Mac Tait would be scampering about with a focus on one thing and one thing only.

The ball.

"When he was in the gym hall with the mini-kickers he was the one running back and forward with the ball at his feet for the hour while some of the other kids would wander off," Tait Snr told Hearts Standard. "His wee brother would wander off into the corner and play with something else. Mac was always totally taken with the ball. He just wanted to run and kick about with the football constantly."

'Football constantly' may well have been Tait's motto. Summer camps, extra sessions, SFA camps, more training. In his early stages, he was coached by Kevin Bracks every Friday. He would soon make the trip from the family's home in Gorebridge to Lochend Road South. Not far from Easter Road and only a goal kick or two's distance from Meadowbank lies the cage of Lochend Football Academy. A neat wee set-up for kids to develop their football skills.

It was there he encountered Jimmy Urquhart. Like Bracks, one of many coaches that would have a positive impact on Tait's footballing journey. 

"We went out to Lochend with Arniston," John, who played for 12 years at junior level with the likes of Broxburn and Newtongrange as well as Arniston, said. "We never had enough players, we had a mixed-aged group of 05s and 06s. Lochend had a better level if you like. As soon as Jimmy Urquhart saw him he was asking what was happening with the wee man so he ended up going to Lochend to play 7-a-side.

"Jimmy had good sessions and the kids were at a good level. He would put on summer camps and holiday camps so he would go there and train for a full week. That was a wee step he had to make to play with kids who play at a higher level. Jimmy would always organise extra sessions. He got quite a lot of football at Lochend. He did the SFA holiday camps at Gorebridge as well. Every time there was a school holiday he was always wanting to be in the camps, Monday to Friday.

"He just loved running about and kicking a football."

It was clear he had an abundance of enthusiasm for football. It also became very clear it was matched with quality. Hearts, however, didn't come calling initially.

Celtic did. Rangers did. And so did Hibs, who were the first.

There would be trips out to Hibs base in Ormiston for a few months for sessions. He would go to Celtic's satellite centre in Grangemouth before Barrowfield. And he spent time at Murray Park as well.

"Macaulay loved it as he was getting different sessions with different coaches," John explained. "He was getting to see all different aspects so I think he really enjoyed that side of it. There was quite a lot of traveling about. Hearts came in last if you like.

"We always wondered why Hearts had never asked. It was Andy Petrie we spoke to at the time. I think he was the head scout at Hearts for that age group. We met Andy a couple of times at games and he was keen to get Macaulay into the Oriam.

"Once we got to Hearts right away we thought this was a good place to be."

READ MORE: Inside Hearts academy: Why change in recruitment, best signing, ex-player importance

The fact Mac is "Hearts daft", just like his mum Jennifer, was a bonus. The family, as a whole, was made to feel welcome and encouraged when they were sat down and advised of the dos and don'ts and what is expected of parents. For example, no back-seat coaching. 

Tait would get plenty of that on the pitch during his journey through the age groups and Balerno High School where he was amongst the first intake for the Hearts performance school, at times car sharing with former Hearts youngster Declan Henry. He opted for Balerno ahead of the Scottish FA's at Broughton High School where he was offered a place following a successful trial, and Newbattle, his local secondary school.

Several individuals were namechecked by John as playing a part in his son's development at Hearts and with the performance school, including Darren Wilson, Paul Thomson, Scott McLennan and Alan Sinclair. 

"I can’t speak highly enough of the guys that have taken Macaulay through," he said.

"In all three reports, it says 'needs to shoot more often'". 

Alan Sinclair still has his reports from when Macaulay played for the under-11 and under-12 sides he coached at Hearts during a long spell with the Tynecastle Park club. There was very little to critique about the diminutive midfielder who would take the ball from the centre-backs and drive forward. Only, the selflessness, even back then, would see him shift the ball on before having a go himself. It was a view also held by Mac's mum.

"His mum would say that to me for years anytime I caught up with her, ‘I just wish he would shoot from outside the box’," Sinclair told Hearts Standard.

Importantly, Mac would more often than not do the right thing as a 10-year-old playing up a year. A maturity beyond his years you could say.

"Mac was great," Sinclair said. "Jen and John are great people and generally speaking that’s where everything starts, if you have got good parents and they are level-headed the kids tend to follow."

READ MORE: How loans, psychologist and hard work are making Harry Stone a better goalkeeper

Sinclair continues to follow the career progression of a number of players who have come across his path. He has been at Kelty Hearts this season to watch Lewis Moore, he speaks regularly with Andy Irving and met up with Aaron Hickey and his dad recently. With Tait, he has witnessed his rise closely, seeing him become a key player under Naismith with the B team. And now he gets to watch him in the Hearts first team. 

There are qualities he saw first-hand that will set the player up for success. Yes, there is that ability to keep it simple, that ability to move the play on and that ability to take care of the ball. But it is the mental side that left the biggest mark.

"He had one of the great attributes that everyone I’ve been lucky enough to coach who has then gone onto make themselves in the game, a real hunger, a real desire," Sinclair explained. "Mac had that. As you can tell from his current stature, he has always been very, very small. It has never bothered him at all. He always had that attitude that said ‘I don’t have any shortcomings’. Whoever he came up against, whether they were bigger, faster, stronger, whatever it was, it never fazed him at all

"He had that in-built belief that he could work harder. His energy, enthusiasm and desire took him past a lot of players. He had that really, really strong character."

Hearts Standard:

Sinclair, just like anyone reading this, is well aware of the pressures that come with being a Hearts player. Performing at Tynecastle Park requires the right mindset, the right mentality. No matter the background, no matter the resume, you have to be able to deal with demand, a sense of chaos and a whole lot of emotion.

The first two lines of Rudyard Kipling's 'If' come to mind. "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you..."

Sinclair noted that Tait is "not an emotional player in the sense that you could rile him", providing an example from a B team game against Bo'ness last season.

"Within five, 10 minutes they had worked out Mac was dictating the play," he said. "They absolutely melted him. For 85 minutes he was kicked that way, this way and another way. He just laughed. Whenever he got fouled or they got booked, he got up and laughed

"There was a part of me thinking, as an old-fashioned fan if you like, ‘would you just wallop one of them back!’. He has always been like that, even going back to Under-10. If things went wrong it didn’t faze him at all. His character is one of the attributes that stuck out really, really early on. He is very chilled.

"He probably did get nervous but he always gave the appearance of being in total control of himself regardless of the score or type of game it was. That is one of his big strengths for me."

READ MORE: The importance of Hearts B: Pathway, periodisation, investment and its future

Sinclair, through his vast experience coaching youngsters at Hearts, expanded on that sought-after attribute that is not quantifiable.

"From my perspective, there are three things that make a football player," he said. "Your technical ability, what you are like on the ball, the physical side of it and there is your character. The three of them are fairly equal in balance but the more and more I coached and the more licenses I picked up over the years, I think I became stronger on character than probably the other two.

"When the physical aspect becomes hard and you are right on your limit, if you have a strong character you can work that wee bit extra. I coached loads of players over the years who were technically really, really good but in really frantic situations or there is real pressure on you, the idea you take a ball even though you are being marked, but if you don't have the character to relax and be brave enough to take the ball and if your character is nervous or worried about making the perfect pass, then the technical aspect of your game becomes harder.

"His character, determination, drive and enthusiasm overcomes these things. He’s very relaxed on the ball, he wants the ball. He will take a ball and make a pass. He’s not someone who has an ego and wants to overdo things. He is happy getting the ball and giving it to someone else. He’s not someone who gets the ball and thinks ‘I hope everyone is looking at me, let’s see if I can do something really clever’."

Tait's pathway from entering the Hearts academy through to the B team was smooth. Setbacks and injuries have been minimal, even if a stress fracture in his back prevented him from going away with the first team for pre-season this summer.

He has grown close to both Callum Sandilands and Ethan Drysdale, two more highly-rated individuals currently impressing with the B team. It is one of the aspects that may be overlooked from the outside, the community that develops among players and their families as they progress through the age groups.

And, on an individual level, there has always been mum Jennifer making sure he meets his own standards that have been set.

"It’s been a good journey," John said. "We’ve met some wonderful parents and kids. The guys in the B team, the parents are all brilliant. Everyone is in it together, everyone wants the best for each other's kids.

"Watching him develop has been brilliant. There are games where he has come off and you’ve had to try to pick him up and other times when he’s come off thinking ‘I’ve been alright there’ and you are like ‘you sure, you wanna go back and think about it again?’

"His mum doesn’t miss him either for his standards because he sets the standards so he’s got to maintain them."

Both parents know that they will not tend to get much out of him. A typical teenager you could say. That level-headedness extends beyond the white lines but there is always room for a laugh on the pitch as was seen in the recent win over Aberdeen. And John has noticed an increase in confidence but without the need to step in and keep him grounded.

Hearts Standard:

"Now and then he will have a burst where he will expand a bit more," he said. "He’s probably shy sitting in the dressing room but when he goes on the pitch he’s different. Football opens him up.

"He’s definitely got more confidence, you can see that from him waking about. He’s confident in what he does on the pitch, I’m not sure how he will handle the other side of things because he is quite quiet, like getting interviewed as these are things he will need to handle.

"He’s not a daft lad, he’s quite clever so he will take that in his stride as well I think. But he’s definitely grown in confidence. The first-team boys are brilliant with him as well. They are always chatting to him, texting him and phoning him [if he missed out on a squad]. Big Jimmy Dunne still texts him to say well done."

John believes Macaulay has "been really lucky" in that as he moved closer and closer to the first team he had the experience of working with John Rankin, Liam Fox and Naismith. 

The Hearts head coach is a big fan, recognising the midfielder's qualities during their time together with the 18s and B team. When Naismith made the step up to the first-team there was every chance Tait would follow.

He understands what is required of him by Naismith, as evidenced by his impact in games off the bench.

"As a person, he is really quiet, really low maintenance, very reserved but definitely has a confidence to go ‘I can do this, I’m good enough’," Naismith told Hearts Standard. "That’s him as a person.

"One thing I’ve said, he gets it, he’s a clever footballer. He gets what we are trying to do tactically and over the last year in the B team we have seen it a lot more, him saying ‘you go there’, telling team-mates to move up, etc. Getting that out of him is a challenge at times but we need to get that out of him and he’s getting better. Even when he’s in the environment with the first team he needs to do the same thing because he gets it, he understands it, he knows how I’ve worked."

READ MORE: Denholm's Hearts journey: From playing for Grandma's petrol money to top of the world

Naismith will nurture Tait and help him along the right path. Should all go well, he may be handed the keys to the Hearts midfield, such are his qualities.

"Ideally, he is a six, he’s a ball-playing six," Naismith said. "His height is small, from 18s up to now the biggest thing I’ve said to him, and over the years sent him clips of players who he can be like and what he needs to do, he needs to be quicker than everybody, quicker with his touch, quicker with his passing. Don’t get caught. Because if you get caught…he’s never going to be a beast. He’s never going to be a big brute in the midfield so he needs to be quicker, sharper and [more] intelligent.

"He’s got the intelligence and he got Player of the Year last year because he was a standout player, he just ran games for us. He gets the ball, he’ll move, he’ll pass it on, he’ll move it on. He understands the game, understands where he needs to be and he can get up and down the pitch. He’s got loads of qualities."

Back in the Tait family car after the Dundee game. 

"Enjoy that?" John asked. 

"Aye, aye, went alright, eh?" that response from Mac.

"He does play it down so he doesn’t get beyond it," John said. "Every time he signs a contract that's him starting again, he's got to go again. Against Dundee, he did a wee bit in that game but he's got to work hard to try to keep in amongst it. To keep in the squad, to keep progressing. 

"He’s in the right place, he’s doing alright but he’s got a lot of work to do yet and he knows that."

The new deal may be viewed as the start of something special for Tait and Hearts. But in reality, it was a special journey that began a decade ago involving a whole host of individuals. What is the saying? It takes a village to raise a child.