Zac Kelly, 15, is building a soccer resume through strong prep play, Olympic development camps, and even by playing with pros.
HOLT, Mich. – At first glance, sophomore varsity goalie Zac Kelly looks like an average high school student. But that impression goes away quickly on the soccer pitch, when Kelly, 15, faces players who are years older than him.
He is one of the area’s rising prep soccer stars, thanks to his talent and his growing resume of elite training opportunities. Kelly frequently trains with Lansing United, a semi-pro club that is turning into Lansing Ignite in 2019.
He likes training with adult players, and in turn, they’ve grown to accept him.
“First couple of days were a little weird because it’s a lot of older guys,” said Adam Miller, a Lansing United goalie and Mount Vernon Nazarene College graduate, who lived with the Kelly family last summer. “A lot of guys who are getting ready to start their pro careers or have that in their future. So, at first, they’re kind of like, ‘Who is this kid and why is he here?’ Zac was obviously talking to them and asking questions and as soon as he earned the respect of those guys he fit right in, there were no problems and he would mess around with us.”
Aside from competing in matches, Kelly was a part of the team in every other aspect. The relationship started thanks to a local connection.
“A friend of mine, her dad was the owner of Lansing United,” Kelly said. “He’s seen me play at high school and club level and invited me out to training with them in the summer. It was just me that he invited to come to training with them, so I was the only one there that was not officially on the team.”
“It [training] was just about every day of the week from the end of May until the start of August.”
Kelly’s experience with Lansing United was dependent on another top-tier opportunity – one that could’ve sent him to play with D.C. United’s academy in Washington. A scout noticed Kelly at a camp, and things started happening.
“It started at the regional ODP (Olympic development program) event, the tryout for the regional team at Saginaw Valley State,” Kelly said. “They bring MLS scouts in there from around the country to look at youth players and try to get them into their academy team.
“The academy scout reached out to me and offered me a tryout in Washington D.C., which consisted of me traveling to D.C., training with the youth 17U academy team just to see how I’d fit in at first. It was a three-day trial. Depending on what they liked, they offered me a spot on their team, but we declined it because it wasn’t quite the right fit for us – not this year at least.”
D.C. United still remains a consideration for Kelly in the future.
“After talking with them, the doors are still open,” Kelly said. “It’s not like this is my only chance to get into an academy like this. I still have two more years of high school left, so it’s possible to get into an academy the next two years and slowly work my way up.”
Kelly’s soccer resume keeps growing: an ODP participant for three years, an invitation to join a premiere academy team and training sessions with a semi-pro team.
“He definitely has a God-given talent, don’t get me wrong,” Miller said. “But it’s his work ethic – he’s coming to Lansing United sessions – most kids his age will be super shy and not wanting to make mistakes and he’s walking right in, he’s asking questions to myself and the other goalkeepers. I would say his work ethic and his confidence and belief in himself to get the job done are two things that play a huge role for him in terms of success he’s had.”
Holt’s High School team finished 14-5-2 this season, winning the district title. Kelly had 10 shutouts, and the Rams did not give up more than two goals all year.
The success Kelly has had presents many college and pro avenues. Since soccer players in the United States can sign a pro contract without having to attend college, Kelly has a couple years to decide which route he wants to pursue.
“As a sophomore, I have to reach out to them,” Kelly said, about college soccer. “I can be on their radar without me knowing, but I have to approach them first to engage in conversation about college.”
He added, “For me, I’d like to get a college education playing collegiate soccer. That’s kind of my step right now. If something opens up, I’d be interested in looking into it.”
No matter the end result for Kelly, the whatever-it-takes mentality will carry him there.
“I think we all have the dream of playing professional soccer,” Kelly said. “It just comes down to how much you’re willing to sacrifice in order to make that commitment. Me, I’m willing to sacrifice just about anything in order to achieve that goal. I think that’s what’s striving me and keeps the wheels turning in my career.”
Along with D.C. United, another MLS team has taken interest in Kelly.
“I’ve contacted the Columbus Crew,” Kelly said. “We’ve heard back from them. I have to send them my schedule for them to come out and scout me.”
Miller, who is now pursuing a career in coaching in Phoenix, Ariz. is sold on Kelly’s talents.
“I think he’s the real deal,” Miller said. “I think he’s going to be a very good player. Sky is the limit for him in terms of his ability and his work ethic. He’s got what it takes to play at the next level and even after that.”