Things were different at Wesley Chapel last season.
It’s evident in the record: 2-8 to 7-2 in a season was a pretty astounding thing. Teams don’t gain five wins in the span of a season without a significant change occurring within a program.
Enter Tony Egan in 2016, a man who installed a philosophy of change throughout the program, which sparked a seven-game win streak to start the season. They called it, ‘#ChangeChapel.’ Everyone adopted the slogan, posting it on Twitter, Instagram, even shirts displayed the message.
“It was mainly for a better mentality with guys, we didn’t have a lot of courage before-hand,” said Wesley Chapel RB Malik Melvin. Melvin found his way to the Ignite Showcase two Sundays ago and impressed with good open field skills against tough LBs in the cold.
He stands at only 5’9”, but there’s good athleticism in his frame, using it on both sides of the ball last season. He was one of four Wesley Chapel captains, the only junior of the bunch, and he proved to be a strong team leader for the Wildcats.
Melvin didn’t eat up the yards like backfield mate Dexter Leverett, only rushing for 358 on the season (Leverett rushing for 1,248 in 2016), however, he didn’t need to be. Melvin made more of an impact on the defensive side of the ball, compiling 62 tackles (25 solo) from the free safety spot. He also intercepted a pass against Gulf in their 50-0 victory.
“There’s more than just one or two stars on this team,” Melvin said. “Everybody has to do their jobs correctly if we want to win. Coach Egan brought a lot more energy and trust to us. We were all more confident last season.”
The Wildcats’ confidence turned into actual results – a 5-0 start to the season led to a tough game district game with Hudson on a Saturday afternoon thanks to Hurricane Matthew pushing it back a day. Melvin had one of his best offensive days on the season through two rushing touchdowns, including the go-ahead one in the fourth quarter.
Wesley Chapel would take the victory 39-34, improve to 6-0, and show that Zephyrhills and River Ridge had to watch out. Next came a 48-13 blowout of Anclote. Melvin rushed for 41 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. He added ten tackles.
The last two games made the difference. Melvin was held to just 20 yards between Zephyrhills and River Ridge, in which the Wildcats dropped their last two, eliminating them from a playoff spot in 5A-8.
Even with the goal of the playoffs gone, Melvin still feels they achieved their main goal of ‘Changing Chapel.’ “I really think we did. Next season, it’s about being a team leader, stepping up, making sure everybody’s at off-season workouts.”
He’ll spend his spring on the baseball diamond before he hits the gridiron during spring football.
“It’s really about doing everything I can with the ball in my hands on both offense and defense.”
Melvin will be a part of a solid core of juniors in Leverett, Florida State commit Isaiah Bolden, and LB Austin Wittish, that will try to grab a playoff spot for the first time in over a decade.
It’s not just about ‘Changing Chapel,’ anymore, but it’s now about chasing something much bigger down: an extra week or two of football.
That’s a big difference that Melvin and the Wildcats are ready to chase down.