RSL Academy

Congratulations to the RSL Academy Class of 2024


It was a day of celebration among friends and family at Zions Bank Stadium last Thursday morning, as the Real Salt Lake and Salt Lake Academy communities assembled to honor the graduating class of 2024. Nine homegrown student-athletes with service time in the RSL organization walked in recognition of their academic achievements: Preston Allen, Izahi Amparo, Fidel Barajas, Aboyke Bikyeombe, Fernando Delgado, Gershon Henry, Blake Kelly, Braydan Morrell and **Jude Wellings**.

“I think we don’t talk about it enough - we need to pause and appreciate what these boys have done and how hard of a thing that is to leave their homes, their families, their safe spaces at the age of thirteen and move - sometimes across the country or from a foreign land - to experience our campus,” said Real Salt Lake Assistant General Manager Tony Beltran, following his speech to the SLA Class of 2024.

“We always preach for our boys to strive for excellence in three areas - academics, citizenship and soccer - with soccer always coming after academics and citizenship … It’s like Pablo [Mastroeni] says - they’re people, they’re human beings first … We want to develop people who can go beyond soccer, go out into the world and are capable of solving real-world problems and impacting their circles in a positive way. This group really embodies everything beyond the field, as people and human beings. We’re endlessly proud of them and it’s a privilege to be even a small part of their journey.”

RSL Academy Graduation

The ceremony began with words from SLA Director Sam Gibbs and student speakers before Valedictorian Blake Kelly took the stage to address his peers. Kelly spent the last semester at Notre Dame with the Fighting Irish D1 Men’s Soccer Team as a goalkeeper after graduating early from Salt Lake Academy. Kelly excelled on and off the field in his time at SLA, balancing a full slate of AP (Advanced Placement) classes and a complete Real Monarchs professional schedule during his senior year, a testament to his quality as a student and athlete.

“It’s been so nice and very refreshing to be at the place I called home for four years … I couldn’t have been more honored and excited to have the responsibility to stand in front of my classmates and pass along some advice that I learned and took with me to college, I really couldn’t be more thankful,” said Kelly. “As a player, in terms of development, there’s no better place to be in this country. This is the place you want to be … As a person, you really learn a lot about yourself. Living away from home, 2,000 miles away in a dorm with 60 other 14-to-18-year-old boys, training, going to school, learning to manage your time. You really grow so much as a person here and even more as a player. I think of the player I was when I arrived here and where I’m at now, but it’s really that I learned so much about myself, I was able to mature and grow.”

Although Kelly graduated atop his class with a perfect 4.0 GPA, Wellings, Bikyeombe and Amparo also graduated with Magna Cum Laude distinctions. One message was clear throughout the day - the class of 2024 is a group of thoughtful, talented, well-rounded young people with nothing but opportunity in front of them. An example of this multi-faceted academic/athletic/off-field approach appeared when Kelly’s speech was followed by an emotional musical performance by Izahi Amparo. “Izzy” took to the stage in front of hundreds, fearlessly performing a graduation melody mashup on the guitar and seamlessly transitioning between English and Spanish melodies.

Fans of the Real Salt Lake Club will know that wonderkid **Fidel Barajas** played more than 30 minutes in Wednesday night’s 1-1 comeback draw against Seattle Sounders FC. What they likely do not know is that he flew back overnight, landing at nearly 4:00 a.m. to turn around and attend his own high school graduation at 10:00 a.m. the next morning.

“I feel excited. I’m proud of myself for being able to accomplish this. Being at RSL, not just the Club but also the high school, has helped me a lot on and off the field. My position has been unique, not many people have taken the path I’m on. It’s all about balance, and I’ve learned to make time for one thing or another. Yesterday, playing in an MLS game and then flying back overnight to attend my high school graduation is something I won’t forget, and it’s something I’m proud of myself for accomplishing. I want to keep learning too, take more classes and learn to prepare for my future,” said Barajas, adorned in full cobalt cap and gown.

**Jude Wellings**, a maestro in the midfield for Mark Lowry’s Real Monarchs squad this season, and also a youngster signed to a first-team contract with Real Salt Lake, was asked about his growth while at SLA. “I came as kind of a shy kid, but we grew together and built a family in the dorms. Growing up with them as a player and a person over the last four years has really opened me up and allowed me to be myself everywhere … I’m going to keep working hard, build my way up and we’ll see where it goes!”

Another young phenom, goalkeeper Fernando Delgado, expressed gratitude for the journey that brought balance to his life, “I’m glad this day has finally come. RSL has amazing teachers and I got along with everyone - there’s really great people here … I feel like RSL helped me mature in the way that I had to focus on soccer and school at the same time, so off the field I learned to keep a balance in my life.”

One crucial mentor for the student-athletes has been RSL Director of Education Roxana Luna, serving as the liaison between the Club and the school. Luna has been with the young men of the program each and every step of the way. “Being a student-athlete is hard. You’re constantly traveling or training and inbetween you have to keep up with academics. We have students that travel during the middle of the week like Fidel [Barajas] who actually came in last night at four in the morning … We provide mentorship … Not only do we want to help them academically, but we also want them to be good citizens. We want to help them so that they can either go to school, go to college, be professional athletes - but the way we prepare them gives them all the options that may be best for their individual path.”

In total, the ceremony featured 81 graduating students ready to take the next step in their lives, whether that be a path in soccer, academia or otherwise.

Salt Lake Academy is a tuition-free, public charter high school serving grades 9-12 located alongside the Zions Bank Real Academy in Herriman, Utah. SLA believes in the combined power of academics and athletics to maximize the potential of each individual. Their mission is to develop students who are lifelong learners, responsible global citizens, and champions of their own success. To learn more about Salt Lake Academy click here, and to learn more about Real Monarchs and the RSL Academy, click here.