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Pepe Mellado: Dreams without borders

Midfielder Pepe Mellado dribbles. Photo courtesy of Josh Schwam/Bradley Athletics

The best experiences in life come after you get out of your comfort zone. Pepe Mellado, a senior on the Bradley soccer team, knows this truth firsthand as his journey to Peoria changed his entire life for the better, helping him grow as a student-athlete as well as a person.

Mellado was born in Valencia, Spain, and started playing soccer at the age of six. From the ages of seven through 15, he played for his neighborhood team Futbol Base Sagunto.

Soon after, the Spaniard signed with Valencia F.C. and spent two and a half years in the youth academy of the First Division Club. After that, he went on a loan to Club Deportivo Acero in the Third Division.

Mellado played for a year in Beniganim, a city located one hour away from Valencia, and then returned to play for Atletico Saguntino, the most famous team in his neighborhood. While there, he helped them achieve a promotion to Second Division B, one of the most competitive leagues in Spain.

At the age of 20, Mellado was offered an opportunity to play in the United States. Bradley University and head coach Jim DeRose opened the doors of the team to Mellado and the young star did not hesitate to move to the other side of the world to continue to pursue his dream.

“One of the reasons why I came to Bradley was to continue both my soccer career and my studies,” Mellado said. “In Spain, being a soccer player is a full-time job, and you do not have the time to study.”

Adapting to the American system and way of life was not an easy task, but Mellado was determined to succeed both on the field and in the classroom. DeRose and assistant coach Tim Regan were both great help in his adaptation during his first months in America.

“Tim Regan is like a father to me, he was always there to help me at any time,” Mellado said. “Coach DeRose too, both of them have been there and that is a big help when you are out of your comfort zone.”

Sophomore Francesco Pettinaroli, an Italian player on the team who arrived at the same time as Mellado, was a great partner during the adjustment. They faced all the challenges of adjusting together.

In addition to Pettinaroli, redshirt freshman Alex Nicastro and former Brave Bryce Logan were two players who helped Mellado acclimate to the team. Nicastro was the only other player who spoke Spanish and helped Mellado with translations.

“They are the ones who helped me live through all of this,” Mellado said. “They were a big help, they still are and they will continue to be.” 

During his first month with the team, Mellado had to adapt to the team’s way of playing. However, it did not take him long to gain the confidence of his coaches and teammates.

“They trusted me very quickly from the first minute, but they needed to see the physical change that took me a month of hard training,” Mellado said.

Living in another country far from family is not easy, especially for someone that has lived his entire life close to their family. Despite the distance, Mellado tries to stay in contact with family and friends daily.

Last year, Mellado had to deal with the hardest time of his life, as he lost both of his grandparents in a short period of time. Although he was not able to see them for the last time, soccer is something that brings Mellado even closer to his grandparents.

“I recently scored a goal and had the opportunity to dedicate it to both of them,” Mellado said. “I have a very nice picture where I’m looking up and I’m talking to them. You feel that they are up there looking at you and it gives you eternal happiness.”

It was the most difficult moment for Mellado, but also the one that helped him grow the most as a person. Now, every time he jumps into the field, he can feel them closer than ever; they are the strength that keeps him going.

Currently, Mellado is the squad’s top scorer and hopes to help the team by scoring more and creating more scoring opportunities for his teammates. The Spaniard shared his excitement for the upcoming games and competing in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament over the next month.

“It is clear to me that this team has the hunger and quality to win games, and we are ready for it,” Mellado said. “Now we just need a little bit of luck, that little bit of luck that we’ve lacked in the last few games.” 

In the future, Mellado wants to play soccer professionally, and he will continue to work hard to achieve his goals.

“My plans have always been the same and will remain the same,” Mellado said. “The reason I’m here is that I want to play professionally. I have been dedicating my life to this for many years and my goal, of course, is to play professional soccer, whether it be in America or back in Spain.” 

For now, Mellado only thinks about enjoying the moment and the day-to-day endeavors of this unique experience.

“I could call this the best experience of my life, and it’s not over yet, but I already feel it,” Mellado said. “I am grateful for life, I thank God and all the people who have gone through this process with me.”

Mellado takes the field next when the Braves travel to face Evansville on Sunday.

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