Sept. 28, 1999
By Erin Rowley
UCLA Media Relations Intern
LOS ANGELES - It was a blessing in disguise. A routine catch maybe, but far from a normal landing for UCLA wide receiver Brad Melsby.
The pop he felt in his right knee when his leg hit the ground after jumping up to pull down a pass during spring practice one day halted a storybook football career, but through the adversity which followed, Melsby has battled back to become one of the Bruins' most reliable receivers in 1999.
Melsby had everything to look forward to in the spring of 1996 before he tore his ACL. As a true freshman the previous season, the 6-0 flanker from Los Alamitos, Calif. played impressively during the second half of the season. In the Aloha Bowl against Kansas, he became the first UCLA freshman wide receiver to make two touchdown receptions in the same game and only the third since 1973 to catch a touchdown pass. He finished the season with 12 receptions for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
Before the knee injury, Melsby had never been injured. He had not even missed a practice in high school. But he underwent reconstructive surgery and rehabilitated, while his teammates continued to play.
"It was real tough being on the sidelines," Melsby remembered. "It gets lonely at times when you're used to being part of a team and all of a sudden you're just kind of working by yourself. Actually, it turned out to be a blessing because I learned a lot about myself, and about hard work and dedication."
The following season he thought he was ready, but Melsby only lasted a week during double-day preseason practices.
"I was having problems physically with my knee, my weight was up and I wasn't playing anywhere near as well as I hoped," he said. "And some things outside of football weren't going quite as well for me either. So I decided that I needed to take some time to sort things out."
At that point, the communication studies major left the team and truly thought his playing days were over.
"But I would watch the games and realize that despite everything that was going on, I knew I needed to be on the football field," Melsby said. "I was grateful that Coach (Bob) Toledo was patient and understanding. So was everyone on the team. They welcomed me back."
With a new perspective and a healthy knee, Melsby returned to the team late in the 1997 season. He saw limited action against Washington and Texas A & M, but not until halfway through last year, did Melsby feel comfortable again.
Yet still, he finished 1998 tied for third on the squad with 16 receptions including perhaps UCLA's catch of the year, a tie-breaking touchdown play with just 21 seconds remaining against Oregon State Nov. 7.
Now a senior, Melsby has embraced an unfamiliar role.
"I've found being a senior has given me a new perspective on things around here," he said. "The feeling that it's my last time around has definitely motivated me. I've always felt it's the job of the seniors to be the leaders of the team. I'm not real vocal, I try to lead by example, but I speak up more this year, more than I ever have."
And given his resurrection from adversity, Melsby's teammates should listen with open ears.
"Before I hurt my knee, really everything had gone right for me," he said. "With school and football, I'd been real fortunate there. Accepting what happened wasn't easy for me. Now when things go wrong, I'm better able to forget about it and say 'that's life.'"