The redshirt freshman who has rejuvenated the Morgan State football attack did not play a down last season, received an instant education when he made his first start against the best team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and preferred basketball over football as a high school athlete.
But there is no doubt that quarterback Mario Melton has been the catalyst for a Bears squad that finds itself tied with Delaware State for second place (2-1 league records) in the MEAC after a 1-3 overall start.
"To be honest, I really haven't even thought about how I'm doing. I'm just enjoying it," Melton said. "I just like seeing my teammates' faces, how happy they are, and my coaches with smiles. I just got an opportunity to show what I could do and now that I have, why not take advantage of it?
"It's a good feeling, especially with my offensive line. I remember them telling me, 'Mario, just take over,' and it was great to know they have that much trust in me. It was seniors telling me that."
Melton's chance came when he opened the game against unbeaten Hampton and went about half the time (sharing with incumbent Byron Selby) in a 26-7 loss that was more competitive than the final score showed. Selby suffered a broken finger late in the game, opening the way for Melton, 6 feet 3, 210, from High Point, N.C.
"I think the change started after Hampton," he said. "We knew we could have had that game, and people just turned to each other and said 'We're not going to lose anymore.' It was a wakeup call that showed we could play with the best in the conference, and we just let it slip away."
Morgan hasn't lost since. It shocked the then-second-place team, Bethune-Cookman, 28-14, at home, with Melton running for 106 yards and a touchdown and throwing for 133 and a touchdown. Then, it pounded North Carolina A&T;, 32-0, on the road, with Melton running for two scores and throwing for 168 yards and a touchdown.
All from a player who might not have gone to Morgan if any of the four Atlantic Coast Conference teams that showed interest in him (Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina State and Clemson) wanted him to be a quarterback.
"Morgan believed I could play quarterback," he said. "Other schools wanted me to be a wide receiver or play elsewhere, but Coach Hill [Donald Hill-Eley] told me if I came here, I wouldn't switch."
He wasn't sure how much time he would receive this season with Selby ahead of him, but he was willing to wait and take what he could get.
"Basketball was my first love, but I started getting more football offers, so I turned there," he said. "I was a pretty good scorer as a small forward."
Last weekend, Towson's biggest headache was a Maine defensive front that constantly harassed quarterback Sean Schaefer and paved the way for the Tigers' first defeat.
This weekend at homecoming, the biggest obstacle might be just the opposite: the Massachusetts offense.
"They are so effective running the football," Towson coach Gordy Combs said of the Minutemen (4-1). "They've got a two-headed monster at the tailback position. It won't be hard getting our defense's attention."
Senior Steve Baylark, the Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Week, has amassed 3,927 career yards and 18 100-yard games. This season, he leads the league in rushing (111 yards a game, six touchdowns on the ground) and is tied for the scoring lead with 48 points.
Freshman Tony Nelson had a breakout game with three touchdowns in a 48-7 romp over William and Mary last Saturday. And quarterback Liam Coen has thrown for 1,106 yards and eight scores and leads the A-10 in quarterback efficiency while hitting 67 of 101 attempts.
UMass is a point away from being unbeaten, suffering a 21-20 loss at Navy that could have gone either way. The Minutemen are averaging 35 points.
Meanwhile, Combs and his staff are working on the lapses that cost the Tigers against Maine.
"We need to shore some things up on both sides of the ball," he said. "I don't believe that cliche about learning more after a loss. We've just got to pick up and regroup."
Morgan defensive end Temi Omotade was named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week after the Bears' shutout of A&T;, the team's first since 1974. The Burtonsville native had his second career interception, five tackles and a quarterback hurry as A&T; managed a meager 148 yards of total offense. ... The troubles continue for the three-time reigning national champion Salisbury field hockey team. Last Wednesday, Salisbury lost its first home game since November 2000, 1-0 to Catholic University. It was Salisbury's first home loss in the Capital Athletic Conference in 12 years. It gave the Sea Gulls a three-game losing streak for the first time since 1993. Salisbury broke that losing streak on Tuesday with an 11-0 rout of Goucher that raised its record to 10-3, 3-1 CAC. email@example.com