By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Publisher

Bo Melton has been playing the drums since he was 2 years old and continues to play in church on Sundays. He never had a formal lesson. He just picked up the drumsticks and started playing. Being good at something seems to come naturally to the rising senior at Cedar Creek High School, and something area fans began to realize from the very start of the 2015 season is that Melton is pretty darn good at football.
In a 28-7 win over Cedar Grove on the road in Week Zero, Melton scored three touchdowns, including one on a 76-yard pass from quarterback Jesse Milza, and finished with 109 receiving yards on just five catches to go along with 87 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries as a running back. His teammate — and older cousin — Amir Mitchell grabbed most of the headlines in the preseason, announcing in late August that he would be finishing up high school in January 2016 and enrolling early as a high-level recruit for the University of Michigan. But after just one game last season, defenses now had another big threat to try to contain.
Few were able to. Melton racked up 913 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 41 catches while adding 748 yards and 11 more touchdowns on 105 carries as a running back. He helped lead Cedar Creek to the South Jersey Group 2 championship, the school’s first ever, and became perhaps the most hyped athlete in South Jersey. Bo was the next big thing, and big time college coaches started flocking to Egg Harbor City. Melton went from a relative unknown to a 4-star recruit in the span of just three months.
“My mindset was I wanted to make a name for myself and follow in my cousin Amir’s footsteps,” Melton said. “It took a lot for me to be a come-up kid this year. It took a lot of effort, but God blessed me with a lot of scholarship offers this year.”
Teammates and coaches said they marveled at how well Melton handled instant stardom.
“Bo is just your average student-athlete off the field. He’s very smart, and he’s really funny, too. He’s a competitor at everything he does. Bo handled everything very well. He handled it better than I would have. I think learning from his cousin, Amir, and how he went through the recruiting process really helped a lot. He was really humble throughout the process,” said fellow wide receiver Khamir Harvey, a 2016 graduate. “Through the years, I’ve watched Bo grow, so now he is much bigger but he still has that speed. He’s lightning fast. Sometimes I couldn’t believe what he was doing, but Bo works his tail off to do what he does during games. People don’t know how hard that kid works when no one else is around.”
“He’s a pretty level-headed kid to begin with. His dad is on staff and we’ve known his family for a while now. His mom and dad wouldn’t let him get a big head about things. He’s always been very gracious in accepting all the compliments he received. He’s special when it comes to handling that stuff. I think Amir helped him out a lot, but he’s also a special kid. I don’t think he’ll ever let anything come between him and doing what’s best for the team. He loves the guys on the team and he wants them to have a good time, whether it’s a sophomore who doesn’t know anybody or the other guys who are seniors like him and star players. He makes everyone feel included,” said head coach Tim Watson. “He’s done a great job this summer being a leader and just doing everything that will make us a better team next year.”
“He handled everything really well. There was never a time when he had a big head about anything,” said Milza, also a rising senior who has been the starting quarterback since his freshman year. “He’s always been about the team and the next game we were going to play. He’s never worried about who he has to talk to or the people who are there just to watch him. He’s always about helping the team. He’s a kid who just comes to work every day and tries to help out everyone on the field.”
Bloodlines and talent
It shouldn’t come as a shock that Melton is an incredible athlete. His father, Gary, was a star at Absegami who went on to a career at Rutgers before signing as a free agent with the Washington Redskins. Melton’s mother, Vicki, was a standout basketball player at Rutgers from 1989-93. His older brother, Gary Jr., is a rising senior at Delaware State and compiled more than 1,800 yards of total offense during his senior year at Cedar Creek. He also was a state champion long jumper.
After a whirlwind recruiting process, Melton chose Rutgers this spring.
“It was completely my decision, and they told me that from the start, even before I got my first offer. They said I might not know now, but I’ll know later. My dad has been through it before and he told me to take everything and make it fun, don’t make it stressful,” Melton said. “I knew Rutgers was the spot for me. I wanted to stay home. Coach (Chris) Ash came in and everything started flowing. I loved the atmosphere there. From a coaching standpoint, coach Ash preaches for great New Jersey athletes to stay home. They had the Ray Rice era, but they haven’t had an era like that in a long time.”
Melton’s announcement on Twitter that he would be taking his talents to Rutgers in 2017 caused an immediate frenzy among Scarlet Knights fans. Photos of T-shirts emblazoned with “Bo Knows Rutgers” began appearing on social media websites.
“That was mind-blowing. I didn’t know that was coming. I went up there and saw shirts that said ‘Bo Knows’ and I was like, ‘um, where did you get that?’ I don’t even go to school there yet,” Melton said. “That’s something to look forward to. I’m not even playing there yet and they already have shirts made up, people talking about me on Twitter. Every college player wants the fan base to support them, and it’s great to know they already support me.”
The recruiting process
Following his performance against Cedar Grove, Old Dominion was the first college to came calling. It wouldn’t be the last. Soon national powerhouses such as Oregon, Michigan and Ohio State came calling.
“After Amir had his breakout junior year, I saw how he handled everything and stayed humble. He would tell me, “Bo, you’re next. You have the potential to do the same things I’m doing.’ So I said, ‘OK, I will try my best and do everything I can do.’ I put in the work and the effort. So now I’m just waiting for the next person behind me. I’d love to see my little brother, Malachi, do the same thing we’re doing,” Melton said. “In Week Zero, against Cedar Grove, I scored three times against a really good team. I was attacking both sides of the ball really hard and I was competing against some Division I athletes. After that, Old Dominion called. Then it went from Old Dominion to Michigan real quick after the Army combine, then from Michigan to Ohio State.”
Despite his newfound notoriety, Melton is still a 17-year-old, so he said he was impressed when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh — who visited Cedar Creek’s campus during his recruitment of Mitchell — shook Bo’s hand and called him by name.
“I’m an outgoing person, so everything is enjoyable to me. (Michigan coach Jim) Harbaugh came to our school and I was like, ‘oh, snap! That’s Harbaugh. I’m going over there to shake his hand.’ He
said, ‘hey, Bo, how you doing?’ He was there for Amir, but he knew my name and everything. I was like, ‘OK, Harbaugh just shook my hand!’ It’s fun,” Melton said. “Most people don’t get to talk to guys like (Ohio State coach Urban) Meyer and coach Harbaugh all the time. You just have to enjoy it. You can’t be stressed. The more stressed you are, the harder the decision is going to be.”
Melton said he tried to use his position as a high level recruit to get college coaches to look at teammates, and even now he tells coaches about potential Cedar Creek recruits, such as Isaiah Watson, a bruising running back who will be a senior this fall. He helped get Rutgers interested in defensive lineman Owen Bowles, and Bowles recently committed to Rutgers.
“I love talking to coaches about other players on my team. Even though I’m committed, I will still contact coaches and say, ‘hey, you need to watch Isaiah Watson’s highlights.’ I did that to Old Dominion for Isaiah, and they came in and gave him an offer,” Melton said. “It’s a blessing to be able to do things like that. Kids will ask me or Owen (Bowles) about recruiting and it’s great because we have gone through it.”
Melton said the recruiting process wasn’t easy, but that he relied on his family, girlfriend, coaches and teammates to keep him from getting a big head when coaches such as Harbaugh and Meyer came knocking on his door.
“It’s a lot of worries on a 17-year-old, dealing with school, football, a social life. At first it’s hard, especially with the attention you get as a recruit, but it gets easier. People think football players always get all the glory, but football players put in a lot of work. But yeah, there is a lot to deal with as a 17-year-old. It’s fun, but it’s hard, too. I’m ready for anything the world throws at me. I’m one of those people who is ready for anything and I just want to stay humble,” he said. “I stay with my family and friends a lot, and that’s what keeps me grounded. I have a girlfriend who keeps grounded, I have parents who keep me grounded, and I have a lot of friends who keep me grounded. That’s something great that people should have. At Cedar Creek, it’s a family atmosphere, and that keeps you grounded.”
Melton also has had an outstanding coaching staff to lean on for advice. Watson nearly made the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks and former offensive coordinator Mike Isgro, who now is a member of the Delaware Valley College coaching staff, was one of the best quarterbacks in Cape-Atlantic League history while at Absegami.
“I’m blessed to have this coaching staff. Coach Watson almost made the NFL, coach Isgro led us to a championship and knows about great offensive systems. My dad played at Rutgers and was a free agent with the Washington Redskins. So there are a lot of guys who got themselves to the college and NFL levels,” Melton said. “We have a lot of sources who have been around people who have played for a long time and people who have made it to the NFL, and who will teach you if you listen. Sometimes, as a 16- or 17-year-old, you think you know what you are doing, but they have been there before.”
A people person
Almost as plain to see as Melton’s talent is his charisma. He’s an outgoing young man who loves talking to people, enjoys interacting with kids and is respectful to his elders.
Watson said Melton is never aloof with younger players, and routinely will stay late after practice to help a freshman or sophomore.
“One thing I talk to the (college) coaches about is, his film is very dynamic, but what you see on film pales in comparison to what he brings to a team in terms of his charisma, his leadership qualities and his ability to galvanize teammates. He’s one of the best I’ve seen when it comes to that,” Watson said.
“I was that kid once and I was always looking up to my cousins, Amir and Duwop (Damon Mitchell), my older brother. And now for me to be the star, I love to interact with people. I love helping out the freshmen and sophomores and trying to make them better. I don’t mind staying with the freshmen for a few extra minutes after practice. I want people to know their names later down the road,” Melton said.
Skills and thrills
What makes Melton such a dynamic player is his combination of size, speed and agility. He’s 6-foot-1 and about 190 pounds and is one of the fastest players in the state. He’s also one of the most difficult to tackle. As time was winding down in the first half of the state championship game against West Deptford, Cedar Creek was 70 yards from a score and conventional wisdom said to simply run the ball, run out the clock and get into the locker room to regroup and try to find a way to come back from a 14-0 deficit.
But an athlete such as Melton is in position to score from anywhere on the field. He took a simple inside handoff, made a move to the outside, and sprinted down the left sideline for a 69-yard gain. He was tripped up a yard shy of the end zone, but that play gave the Pirates the confidence that they could come back and win — because they had Bo Melton, and West Deptford didn’t.
In the third quarter, Melton scored on a 10-yard run. Then, in the fourth quarter, he threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Louie Pitale and connected with Milza on a quarterback throw-back pass for the 2-point conversion.
During Cedar Creek’s 14-9, semifinals win over Haddonfield, Melton finished with 26 receiving yards and 109 rushing yards and scored both touchdowns, including a 69-yard scoring run that gave the Pirates the lead for good. In Cedar Creek’s 21-20 win over Collingswood in the opening round of the playoffs, Melton scored the Pirates’ first touchdown and the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter, AND blocked a potential game-winning field goal on the final play.
“When I look at film and see the kinds of moves he’s learned in the past couple of years, sometimes you don’t even see that in college football. He has certain abilities that haven’t seen anybody — even guys I’ve watched on TV — have, just the way he’s able to move side-to-side and the speed he has,” Milza said.
“Obviously, he’s physically gifted with great reaction time and he’s a very explosive athlete. And he’s fortunate to have an abundance of confidence, both offensively and defensively. He always expects to make plays and do something special. That’s just what his mindset is, and he’s always been like that,” Watson said. “He’s always been a playmaker and he’s always going to have those expectations for himself. Confidence coupled with supreme athletic ability is a dangerous combination. He knows the moves he wants to make before he makes them, and that’s something that is beyond his years.”
Watson said there are some similarities between Melton and Mitchell, most notably their ability to change a game anytime the ball is in their hands. But, he said there are some differences, too.
“They are similar in size, but Amir has about three inches on him and maybe 20 pounds. So, physically, there are some differences, and personality-wise there are some differences. Bo has always been our juice guy. Even as a sophomore, he showed hints of being a leader, even though he wasn’t quite ready for that role,” Watson said. “But (junior year) he really became that. He’s a fun kid and the moment is never too big for him. That’s something you always strive for as a coac
hing staff, to have a young man on your team who is naturally like that. It makes our job easier, and it makes it a whole lot of fun.”
Milza said he got a kick out of watching defenders try to stop Melton during spring 7-on-7 tournaments.
“We are doing some 7-on-7, and even during that he likes to give (defenders) that little biggity bop stuff, as he likes to call it. Some kids just completely embarrass themselves even trying to get one hand on him. And when you can’t even get a hand on him, it’s interesting seeing somebody try to tackle him,” Milza said. “The way he moves side-to-side, with that speed he brings with it, you put that all together and it’s unbelievable to watch.
Melton said he realized quickly when he began his high school career that talent will only get a player so far. He learned how much effort a player has to put in at the weight room and in practice to be able to compete at the varsity level.
“I thought my high school career was going to blow up my freshman year. I was going to come out and do my best, like any other freshman, but I got stunned real quick. As soon as I got there, I was like, ‘oh boy, this isn’t like junior football.’ It’s a tremendous change from junior football. Guys are bigger, stronger, faster, and if you want to play varsity as a freshman you have to get in the weight room, you have to put in the effort. Because if you don’t, you’re going to get blown off the ball. I learned that real quick,” Melton said. “After my sophomore basketball season, I put in a lot more effort and had more accountability with everything. I tried to do everything 100 percent.”
Melton helped deliver a state championship to Cedar Creek, and he said that was his biggest goal. Now, with one more season to go, he said he wants to enjoy every minute of it and do his best to get the Pirates back to the championship game.
“At the end, all I wanted was a championship. All I wanted was a ring. And when it was all said and done, my hometown was happy, my teammates were happy, everything is good. But now we are looking ahead to next year. And that’ what coach Watson preaches. Now we have to defend that championship,” Melton said. “I’m done with the recruiting, so during my senior year I’m just going to enjoy the time with my teammates. This will be my last year of high school, so I’m going to try to remember everything that’s happening, try to make plays I’ll never forget. I want to be talking to my boys 10 years from now and talk about plays we made.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays