Brady Mello’s earliest wrestling memory took place at a Sac-Joaquin Section tournament at Modesto’s Johansen High in 2000.
While the near capacity gym waited for the finals to start, a 21/2-year-old Brady took advantage of an empty mat. He strapped on his head gear and stood in the middle in the ready position, waiting for an opponent.
“I was sitting at the head table,” said his father and Golden Valley wrestling coach, Chopper Mello. “I had my back turned and somebody said, ‘Hey, Brady is in the middle of the mat. You better go get him.’ Back then Brady knew where to stand on the line on the mat. He wasn’t going to move.”
At first he drew laughs from the crowd as the cute little kid standing in the middle of the mat.
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Then a wrestler from Ponderosa came out of the crowd, shook Brady’s hand and started wrestling him. The crowd went crazy as they watched a toddler show off an impressive repertoire of wrestling moves before pinning his opponent.
As a coach’s son, Brady grew up around the sport. He was a fixture at Golden Valley home matches. By the time he was 3, he was leading the team into the gym and out onto the mat. He knew the entire prematch warmup routine.
“That was the best,” Brady said. “I got to be seen by other people. I wasn’t just behind the scenes. I wanted to be part of the team.”
“He’s been leading our team out since he was almost still in diapers and preschool,” Chopper said. “He asked me for a long time if he could do it and I said no. Eventually I gave in and he did a good job. It got to the point that my high school guys were saying we need Brady to lead us out.”
Now 14, the Golden Valley freshman will represent his father’s team at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet on Friday at the Stockton Arena.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Brady, who will compete in the 120-pound division. “I’m going to go out and do the best I can. If I don’t place, I don’t place. Reaching sections was one of my goals. I get to experience it. That’s a big accomplishment for a freshman.”
Of the 112 section qualifiers who emerged from the Division 1A Tournament at Franklin High in Elk Grove last weekend, Brady is one of just eight freshmen. He’s the only freshman from the divisional weighing more than 113 pounds.
“For him to make Masters as a freshman is huge,” Chopper said. “He gets to see the level of competition. That’s going to pay off for him big in the next three years.”
If anybody knows how big it is, it’s Brady.
He’s a wrestling junkie. Before the brackets were made available online, Brady filled them out by hand by using the seeding plan formula and all the results from the other five section divisional tournaments.
“I told him the brackets would be online later, but he said he wanted to see them now,” Chopper said. “He does his own state rankings because he doesn’t feel the official rankings are detailed enough. He knows everything about high school wrestling. We have the Big 10 Network at home and he watches all the duals.
“He’s crazy with this stuff. Which can be hard some times as his coach. There will be times during a match when I tell him to do a move and he shakes me off. That’s when I have to tell him I’m your coach right there, not your dad. The other day I’m trying to tell him what he needs to do before he wrestles a kid from Ponderosa. He told me, ‘I know. I got this.’ He went out and won.”
Brady will have a different role at the section tournament this year. Since he was 7, he’s been put in charge of the staging area for wrestlers. He’s lined them up in the right order and directed them toward the correct mat.
“That was the best because I got to see all the wrestlers,” Brady said. “I got to see every wrestler that would go on and place at state.”
Instead of directing the line, he’ll be standing in it Friday.
“That’s going to be special,” Brady said. “I’m not backstage anymore. I’m a wrestler. People are going to see me perform.”
Who will be Brady’s replacement in charge of running the staging area? Brady’s 12-year-old brother, Jaret.
“Brady’s not too happy about that,” Chopper said. “He says, ‘That’s his job.’ I told him he has to focus on wrestling.”