Phil Anastasia: From 'Waterdog' to champ

Northern Burlington's Cody Melton lets out a yell after winning the state championship at heavyweight in a 3-1 decision.
Northern Burlington's Cody Melton lets out a yell after winning the state championship at heavyweight in a 3-1 decision. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)

N. Burlington heavyweight Cody Melton is lone S. Jersey winner at states.

Posted: March 05, 2012

ATLANTIC CITY - Cody Melton was minding his own business in class on Friday morning when a strange sound came on the loudspeaker.

It was Northern Burlington athletic director Jack Lukis belting out an a cappella and off-key rendition of the school's fight song in tribute to the school's senior wrestler.

Lukis might not be much of a singer, but the veteran administrator made up for his lack of polished pipes with enthusiasm, determination and the element of surprise.

The same goes for Melton on the wrestling mat.

"I don't get my respect because I don't look like the guys I wrestle against," Melton said Sunday after becoming South Jersey's only state champion at the end of a grueling weekend of competition at Boardwalk Hall.

Melton knows what people think when they see him take the mat. His coaches know, too.

Melton is a heavyweight, competing in the 285-pound class. But he's shorter than the point guard on the junior-varsity basketball team.

"He's 5-foot-9," Northern Burlington coach Jule Dulci said. "He says he's 5-10, but he's really 5-9. His whole life, people have been telling him that he doesn't look like an athlete.

"But he's got a great head on his shoulders. We knew he was a very good wrestler, but now he's a lot more than that.

"Now he's a state champion, and that lasts a lifetime."

Melton powered through the field on the floor of the big building with the arched ceiling off the boardwalk. He won by pin on Friday night, beat Clayton's once-beaten Tom Rementer by a 4-1 score in Saturday morning's quarterfinals and knocked off Pequannock's undefeated Mike Spencer by a 5-2 score in Saturday night's semifinals.

Even as the No. 1 seed on the top half of the bracket, Melton was convinced he wasn't the favorite. He was certain that other folks, as always, were judging him by his appearance, not his accomplishments.

"Everybody was saying it was wide open, and anybody could win it," Melton said. "That motivated me. It was like I knew I had to prove myself."

Melton, who finished with a 37-2 record, is Northern Burlington's first champion since 1977. He's homegrown, too - a product of the township's youth program who used to serve as the high school team's water boy when his older brother, R.J., was a member of the varsity.

"We used to call him, 'Waterdog,' " Dulci said.

Nobody who watched him run on the mat with water bottles would have pegged Melton as a fifth grader with a state championship in his future. But he had his own plans.

"I've been dreaming of this for a long time," Melton said of a state title. "I remember coming here with my brother, just to watch and thinking, 'I'm going to be on that mat one day and I'm going to win it.' "

To fans unfamiliar with Melton, the heavyweight title bout probably looked like a mismatch. Melton was giving up around six inches to Morris Knolls' senior Jermaine Eluemunor, whose chiseled physique and Mohawk haircut cast him in the mold of a championship wrestler.

But Melton scored an early takedown and controlled the rest of the bout on his way to a 3-1 victory. He leaped into the air in celebration.

Somewhere, that fight song was playing - a little bit of an offbeat soundtrack for a little bit of a offbeat but totally deserving state champion.


Contact Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports

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