- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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James Melvin never cared whether his son Rashaan Melvin walked onto Northern Illinois’ football team or accepted a scholarship to a Division II program.
He was going to support him no matter what his decision was. What mattered most was his son was actually going to college. No one in his family had done so before.
“I never went to school,” James said. “No one in my family went to college. Rashaan has five brothers and two sisters. He’s the baby. He’s the first one to go to college. It means a lot to me.”
Through three years at Northern Illinois, Melvin has taken care of what matters to his father -- the student aspect of being a student-athlete. He’s on his way to getting a degree in sociology.
What’s been just as important to Melvin has been the athlete part. He chose to walk on at Northern Illinois rather than accept a Division II scholarship out of Waukegan High School in 2008 because he not only believed he could play at the FBS level, but he was confident he could excel against the nation's best.
Now heading into his junior season, the 6-foot-2, 193-pound Melvin will be given that chance to prove it. After finding his way onto the field last season and showing a glimpse of his skills at cornerback, Melvin has been named a starter for the Huskies’ season opener against Army on Saturday.
“I never doubted my ability,” Melvin said. “I have trust and faith in God to put myself in a position to have success. I tried to stay focused and not left the coaches down. There was no doubt in my mind I was able to compete.”
Melvin’s career has been one of gradual steps. He first walked onto the team, and then redshirted his freshman season. As a redshirt freshman, he saw action in two games, but didn’t record any stats.
Before his third season, former Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill decided to put Melvin on full scholarship. It was a day father and son will never forget.
“It was a blessing,” Melvin said. “It was definitely a blessing.”
Interviewed separately, James nearly used the same words to describe having his son’s education paid for.
“It was a blessing from God,” James said. “It was a blessing from God.”
As a sophomore, Melvin began his season as the backup left cornerback. Due to injuries, Melvin shot up the depth chart and found himself starting against Illinois the third game of the season. He came through for the Huskies and had seven tackles against the Illini.
“It was so unreal,” Melvin said. “ I wasn’t nervous. I was just ready for the opportunity and took advantage of it. After that, it was on.”
Melvin would start one other game last season and finished the year with 39 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups.
With the changing of head coaches in the offseason, Melvin’s status as a starting cornerback was uncertain. New cornerbacks coach Richard McNutt came in with some knowledge of Melvin, but for the most part began with a clean slate.
Through spring and fall practices, Melvin impressed McNutt and head coach Dave Doeren enough to earn the starting nod against Army.
“He’s taken advantage of that opportunity,” McNutt said. “He’s very focused. He has a great understanding of the game. He’s constantly trying to learn. If you look at him, he has the height and weight. He can run. He has speed. He’s a physical corner. He has great instincts.”
Melvin was confident he’d win the job. It’s not that he’s cocky, but he’s worked too hard and come too far to be passed up by someone else.
“Whether you’re a backup or starting, it’s no difference,” Melvin said. “You still got to put forth the effort.”
James couldn’t be prouder of his son.
“He worked hard for it,” James said. “It was coming. That’s what I say. He worked hard for it. If he didn’t work hard, he wouldn’t be there.”