Holt Star Goalie Zac Kelly Navigates New Normal In Sports And School
Kelly is headed to Michigan State in the fall to play soccer, but first, he's experiencing a unique senior year.
HOLT, Mich. - Zac Kelly is not like any ordinary senior. Michigan State soccer commit and star goalie at Holt High School is one of the best goalies in the state, along with being a strong student academically.
Kelly, who is graduating May 2021, usually would have a lot to look forward to as a senior, including prom, last homecoming and an in-person graduation. However, his biggest hope is being able to finish the school year in person.
“I’m hoping to finish my school year in person and get back,” Kelly said. “School work is hard, but you just got to put your best out there.”
The Holt team made it to the regional finals, losing 3-2 to Muskegon Mona Shores, and finishing 8-2-2.
Kelly’s season and high school career is over, but he is happy he got to play.
That’s the mentality of an athlete. When something is put in the way, find another path around.
And that’s exactly the type of person Kelly is, especially as being a goalkeeper.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing goal, when the pressure is on you and being the last person everyone sees before the ball gets past the defense,” Kelly said. “I love that pressure.”
One of the biggest reasons for Kelly’s commitment to Michigan State wasn’t even from a soccer standpoint. What really drew Kelly was from his summer experiences working on a golf course.
“I mowed the greens and tee boxes, and I figured I could do this for a living,” Kelly said. “And with Michigan State having one of the best turf grass management programs in the nation, I couldn’t have asked for a better program to enter.”
Kelly is a special player, according to Assistant Coach John Conner. Coaching a player with that much talent is a big responsibility, but is also something worthwhile.
“You always look forward to these opportunities to coach a kid that has lots of different strengths, whether it’s soccer strengths or the skills he brings to the table,” Conner said.
Conner, who is a counselor at the school and has coached soccer for more than 20 years, feels there is more to it than just his soccer ability.
“We’ve had a lot of kids that have come through that were very, very talented,” Conner said. “But there's a difference between being a good athlete and soccer player, while also having the academics, the character and the leadership ability. He has all of those characteristics.”
He doesn’t crumble under pressure. He doesn’t let his emotion guide him. For Conner, that’s one of the nice parts of coaching Kelly.
“The character aspect is one of the nicest parts of coaching a guy like Zac,” Conner said. “ Hee’s very intelligent and a super hard worker along with it.”
Even with the benefits of coaching a player like Kelly, there do come minor challenges.
Conner compared Kelly’s skills to former players he has coached and how the hardest part of coaching a player like that is finding the weakness in them.
“I’m pretty demanding of him,” Conner said. “I don’t shy away from his mistakes and let him know about it. I don’t treat him like a prima donna. To me, that’s the way you are going to get better.”
Conner also mentioned the psychological aspect of coaching and the importance in how that's treated.
“As you go up the ranks, coaching of the little things becomes less of a need,” Conner said. “You’re more coaching the psychological aspect of athletes.”
Conner used an example of Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, and the psychological aspect of his greatness.
“He doesn't care if he throws five yards or 35 yards, he’s going to take what you give,” said Conner. “It’s the psychological strength that he has, and that aspect is the next piece of the puzzle for Zac.”
Kelly praised Conner for his job as his coach and viewed him as a mentor more than anything.
“Sure he gives me coaching points that I’ve heard before,” said Kelly, “but he puts my interests in front of his which I’ve always respected.”
Conner touched on one of Kelly’s biggest strengths: his leadership for his teammates.
As an outgoing senior, Kelly takes on a lot of responsibility to lead his teammates, and that mentality stuck with Junior Midfielder Gershom Sylvain.
Sylvain, originally born in Malawi in Africa, first played with Kelly on their club team. Kelly is a year older than Sylvain, but would train at times together
Sylvain praises Kelly’s leadership skills the most.
“Zac’s one of those guys that’s not just like a teammate, but also a big brother,” Sylvain said. “It’s good to have him because he pushes me a lot. He pushes the team and I try to learn from that.”
Sylvain hopes to step into that role once Kelly leaves as a leader of the team.
“I try to learn from Zac,” Sylvain said. “I want to be able to take on that responsibility when Zac moves onto his next chapter.”