QB Melzi's plot twists led straight to Towson

Facing old team, starter gratified with transfer

College Football

October 31, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Fate sometimes deals some interesting hands.

Just ask Anthony Melzi, who - through an intriguing two-year chain of events - will be the starting quarterback for Towson University instead of Lehigh tomorrow in their Patriot League matchup in Bethlehem, Pa.

On the day after Halloween, Melzi said it's a treat to be returning to Lehigh. He enrolled there out of Haddonfield (N.J.) Memorial High School before transferring to Towson after a discontented year, sitting out last season as a redshirt, then beginning 2003 as a backup to Tigers incumbent Jason Amer.

"Who knows if I would be playing there?" said the 6-foot-3, 225-pound sophomore. "Right now, I'd rather be in this [Towson] uniform. ... I've been up and down and all over the place for two years.

"But I still have a lot of friends on that team and keep in touch. My girlfriend still goes to Lehigh and I've been back a couple of times. But I try to keep my distance from things relating to football."

The what-goes-around, comes-around story began when Melzi selected Lehigh and coach Kevin Higgins over a host of suitors after passing for more than 3,000 yards at Haddonfield, where he also was a three-year starter on the baseball and basketball teams and an all-conference javelin thrower for the track team.

On Feb. 6, the day before the signing period ended, Higgins informed Melzi that he had taken an assistant coaching job with the Detroit Lions.

"There was a huge panic. My family and friends were freaking out," Melzi said. "I only basically knew Coach Higgins."

The new coaching staff headed by Pete Lembo told him nothing was going to change. As a freshman, he didn't expect to start anyway with two seniors ahead of him, so he stayed with Lehigh.

"I clicked with the players, but I didn't feel something was right with the coaches," Melzi said. In December, highly touted Chad Schwenk, a quarterback who had been at Rutgers, transferred to the Mountain Hawks.

"Here was a Division I-A transfer coming back home where he was popular," Melzi said. "I kind of read the writing on the wall. Football was my passion and I needed to be on the field. I didn't think that was going to happen."

In May, he got his release from Lehigh and the search was on. He concentrated on Atlantic 10 schools like Delaware, Villanova and William and Mary. Towson, which had recruited him out of high school, was hardly a contender, partly because Melzi knew of the accomplishments of his contemporary, Amer, in New Jersey high school circles.

"We heard he was unhappy, so we made contacts," said Tigers coach Gordy Combs. "When he came out of high school, we felt he was one of the best quarterbacks we saw on all the tapes, so we kept after him."

Through Clyde Folsom, the coach at West Deptford (N.J.) High where one of Melzi's relatives taught, Towson scored big points.

"I didn't think it was where I wanted to go," Melzi said. "I knew Amer was here. But the decision had to be done quickly. Money was an issue and Coach Combs told me he'd love me to come and they'd help out. All I wanted was to compete."

After a year of learning the offense and running the scout team to shake off the rust, Melzi made a good impression in the spring game and was primed to back up Amer this fall.

Then came the final twist. After Towson was trounced at Yale and Amer was removed following the first half, the firmly implanted first-stringer quit the team.

"I didn't expect that to happen," Melzi said. "No one knew why Jay left. It was a personal decision. But it's easy to get burned out because this is a business."

The circle was complete for Melzi.

He finished the Yale game in his first legitimate game action since high school, then found it "scary" to be starting again at Colgate, where the weather was terrible and the game was worse for the Tigers.

Melzi arrived the next weekend in a homecoming victory over Holy Cross. Towson was turnover-free in the game, which "was great to be a part of," he said. "I got over the final hurdle."

Said Combs: "I think as he gets really settled, he'll only get better. But I think he'll be a little emotional this week."

Melzi has completed 76 of 135 throws this season (56.3 percent) for 1,076 yards and five touchdowns with six interceptions. His quarterback rating is 126.58.

In another odd quirk for the Lehigh game, Schwenk, the quarterback brought in ostensibly to place ahead of him almost two years ago, will be on the sideline with a broken wrist. Junior Kyle Keating, one of Melzi's friends who tied a school record with six touchdown passes last week, will be leading the Mountain Hawks.

"I'm excited about the whole thing," Melzi said. "But the bottom line is I made a good decision to come to Towson."

Next for Towson

Matchup:Towson (4-4, 2-2) vs. Lehigh (5-2, 3-0)

Site:Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem, Pa.

When:Tomorrow, 12:30 p.m.

Radio:WTMD (89.7 FM)

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