When the Harrisburg Heat were resurrected in 2012, they played their first game on the road against Tatu and the Dallas Sidekicks at a sold out Allen Event Center. Taking the field for the Heat was a lanky English forward, barely a month removed from his 22nd birthday.
The Heat will host their eighth home opener this Saturday at 7:05 against the Rochester Lancers and Tom Mellor is the lone holdover from that first Heat game seven years ago.
“That first game in Dallas is something I won’t forget,” Mellor says. “I never imagined I would still be playing. It’s not something I really thought about at the time. All I wanted to do was to play all day every day.”
Mellor was one of several Harrisburg City Islanders players who made the jump to the indoor game, but he led the Heat in scoring with 33 points that opening season.
“Some adjustments I found more difficult than others,” Mellor recalls. “It wasn’t so much the boards or the pace of the game, it was more the one minute shifts. You never want to come off, until you play a quality team who make you chase that is!”
Mellor led the Heat again with a career-high 37 points in 2013-14 before a series of injuries limited him to just 10 games total over the next two seasons. He rebounded to 17 points in 14 games in 2016-17, the Heat’s only playoff team. 2017-18 saw the Heat fall to 6-16 while Mellor played in only three games.
I have never thought about giving up.Tom Mellor
“Injuries have certainly been tough, basically I have arthritis in both knees,” the 29-year old says. “I have struggled with them since college with two or three surgeries on each knee, clearing up my meniscus with a cyst removal in one. Then the cherry on top of the cake would be the scapholunate ligament reconstruction in my right wrist a couple seasons ago. I have never thought about giving up, I’ve just had to learn to adapt my game and have a slightly different role within the team.”
Not only did he adapt his game, but Mellor played a career high 20 games last year and chipped in 16 points. He is the franchise leader with 116 points, including two assists in the Heat’s season opening 12-3 win in Rochester last Saturday.
With Brad Kerstetter not on this year’s roster, Mellor is the only Heat player remaining from the inaugural season. In fact, he has survived five coaches and three owners in two leagues.
He feels the historic weight of a team that is playing in its 20th season over two incarnations. “Harrisburg is a huge soccer community full of indoor legends with the likes of Richard Chinapoo, Gino DiFlorio, Lester Felician and Bill Becher as well as many others, so it doesn’t take you long to understand the impact they have in the community,” Mellor says. “Bringing a championship to Harrisburg would be unbelievable and I would be representing everyone who has been a part of it since Day 1.”
While the Heat seem to be on the upswing, the team has suffered some unbelievable lows including going 3-36 over the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Improvements have been made by current owner Carl Delmont, who bought the team in 2016.
“The game changer was Carl coming in, his passion for the game and Harrisburg itself is something to be admired,” Mellor says. “His investment in the team both on and off the field is going to bring results, and to be a part of it is special. There’s a long way to go but the foundation has been set and I’m positive we can reward everyone’s hard work.”
For Delmont, the feeling is mutual. “I’m very happy for Tommy,” the owner says. “He welcomed me with open arms and has been a great bridge from the past to the present for me and his teammates. I love how this organization is building; the culture that coach Pat Healey is creating; and the optimism that Tommy and Pat are fostering.”
If Mellor ever feels like a fish out of water in Harrisburg, he can turn to his brother David Mellor, who is now in his 4th season with the Heat.
“It’s special, you can’t ask for much more,” Tom says. “Playing with him day in and day out is great, winning a championship would be even better. He’s eager to learn and I know you’ve not seen the best from him yet.”
Last year’s leading scorer Ricardo Carvalho signed with the Florida Tropics in the offseason. With no obvious replacement for his team-high 30 goals, Mellor may be called upon to take a more central role again.
“Carvalho is certainly going to be missed,” Mellor says, “but I believe in what we have here. We have some guys who will step up and I am excited to help them and hopefully lead by example. I’m always going to give everything I can for the team in whatever way they need me.”
The Heat have already found one new responsibility for Mellor. On Wednesday the team announced that Head Coach Pat Healey named Mellor an assistant coach, making him one of the youngest player/coaches in the league.
“Tom has been a huge contributor on and off the field for this organization for many years now,” said Healey. “His knowledge for the arena game and passion about the team makes this decision to have him join the coaching staff a no-brainer. I leaned on him, along with other veterans, last season and the team has made significant improvement.”
It sounds like Mellor will be sticking around for a while and he wouldn’t have it any other way.