was in awe. The 15-year-old was hanging out and learning from some of his soccer idols.
Twice this year, Bellini — who plays soccer at Real Salt Lake Academy (Herriman, Utah)
— has trained with players from the development academy's Major League Soccer (MLS) counterpart, Real Salt Lake.
"It was amazing," Bellini said. "They're high-quality players and it's fun to watch them."
Bellini has picked up some pointers that he's been trying in games. Getting first-hand teaching from professional soccer players is like an experience none other.
Bellini, whose real name is Nicolas but goes by Ken, is in his first year at Real Salt Lake Academy. Last year, as a freshman, the right wing had a great season at Skyridge (Lehi, Utah) as well as with La Roca Futbol Club and attracted the interest of the development academy coaching staff.
Real Salt Lake Academy brought Bellini to a U15 tournament last year in Los Angeles and he helped them capture first place.
"He was the crucial player with his speed and his ability to get on the wing and cross the ball in," Real Salt Lake Academy assistant soccer coach Ronny Charry said.
Bellini, who plays right wing, was offered a roster spot at Real Salt Lake, which was hard to say no.
"It just gave me a better opportunity to be playing at a higher level," said Bellini, who has played in five games this season and has one goal.
The coaches saw the potential in Bellini with his grace on the field.
"One of the reasons we brought him in here (is) because he does have the potential to play pro," Charry said.
Soccer has always come naturally to Bellini. He was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil and then moved to Japan when he was 1. The next year he came to the United States.
Bellini started to get recognized as a solid soccer talent as a teenager. In 2017, he competed in a U14 camp for a shot to make the U.S. National Team. There were 30 players brought into the camp but only 18 were selected for the team. Unfortunately, Bellini didn't make the cut.
"I was just happy I got to go there because I was the only kid there that was playing club at the time — all the other kids there were already playing at development academies," Bellini said.
As a part of the U.S. Olympic Development Program (ODP), Bellini was one of 18 players who represented the West Region in a tournament in Costa Rica in February 2018. He tallied three goals as the U.S. won all four of its games. Bellini was able to show off his soccer ability on an international stage.
Playing for his country have been great experiences and have enhanced Bellini's soccer game. This season with Real Salt Lake Academy has also been big for his development. He said he's grown physically and mentally. The soccer players at the academy have nine sessions a week with the coaches, six on the field and three in the weight room. It's an intense workout schedule.
"It's been really great," said Bellini, who celebrated his 16th birthday on May 14. "They push us a lot and we train twice a day and I feel like I've really grown."
Charry and his fellow coaches like Bellini's game. He's quick on and off the ball and has an innate ability to put the ball in the back of the net.
"His ability to get around the defenders, especially down the outside, and his ability to cut the ball back and cut it in front of the center forwards is what makes him a good player," Charry said.
Bellini is as fast with the ball as he is without it.
"I can't tell you how many hours I've just been working on dribbling the ball," Bellini said.
Bellini is a perfectionist on and off the field. That's evident by his consistency in the classroom. He had a 4.0 grade point average slip down to 3.9, which made his upset. Bellini has a challenging class schedule that includes one honors course.
It's difficult to juggle soccer full-time along with school but Bellini is making it work.
Bellini has also found some time to volunteer. A few weeks ago, he and a number of his teammates went to a school that offers the Head Start program and taught kids ages 3 to 7 how to play soccer.
Also, every Thursday since April, Bellini has been tutoring some 7- and 8-year-old students. He enjoys helping young kids succeed in life and in athletics.
Since he's only a sophomore, Bellini hasn't researched much where he wants to go to college. Wake Forest, Stanford and UCLA are three of his top schools because of their soccer programs but he's open to looking around. Bellini would like to pursue either a degree in the medical field or mechanical engineering.
College is important for Bellini but he ultimately wants to play professional soccer. Coach Charry sees a lot of promise in his young pupil.
"Right now, he's just like in the middle of his path," Charry said. "He's 16 years old, and when you think about it most professionals make their professional debut about 23, 24. He's just taking the beginning steps of his career in soccer as potentially going on to a pro career."
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