When Cypress Officer Tommy Mellana takes the football field, he stands out.
Others run, wave their arms and yell to get fired up.
“I just quietly walk the sidelines and think about the game,” he said. “I think about how I want to play.”
In all his years playing football growing up, that is how he approached each game.
He’d take the field, walk the sidelines and scan the bleachers for his biggest fan.
Mellana easily would find his grandmother, who he called “mom” because she raised him. Donette Mellana’s platinum blonde hair stood out, along with her cheering that was loud but not obnoxious.
“I always knew where she was,” he said.
When Mellana takes the field Feb. 28 as the middle linebacker for the National Public Safety Football League’s OC Lawmen in their season opener, he won’t scan the stands for his mother.
Instead, Mellana, 34, will look down at the black plastic band that has been on his wrist for the last four years.
READY TO PLAY
Mellana didn’t find his calling as a police officer until seven years ago when he was holding his newborn daughter.
He was working in an Exxon Mobile oil refinery, but his little girl made him quickly question his career choice and chart a new path.
“I just thought, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to protect this little girl?’,” Mellana said. “I guess I became a police officer to protect her.”
Mellana said a desire to protect and help others is in his nature.
It’s why he loves being a patrol officer, and why he got his degree and now serves as a substitute teacher on his off days in Bellflower, where he grew up.
“I just want to make a difference for somebody,” he said. “I think that’s important.”
On the field, Mellana leaves this protector persona in the locker room.
At 6 feet and 220 pounds, he serves OC Lawmen as their middle linebacker, the crux of the team’s defense.
“I like to go out there and hit,” he said. “I like to be physical on the field.”
After high school, Mellana didn’t play much football. Part of him missed the game.
In March 2010, Bellflower High School hosted an alumni game. Mellana’s mother encouraged him to play, but he didn’t want to leave her side.
Donette Mellana, known to her friends as Mimi, was battling Stage IV skin cancer.
“When she got sick, I moved home to take care of her,” he said. “She begged me to play, but I didn’t.”
Mimi died on March 31, 2011.
The black plastic bracelet Mellana wears on his right wrist represents skin cancer awareness.
“This never comes off,” he said as he pulled at the band, revealing a noticeable tan line.
The following year, the Bellflower alumni game fell on the anniversary of his mother’s death.
“When she passed away, it was a really tough time for me,” Mellana said. “I thought playing that game would be a good way to remember her, so I went out and played.”
After that, Mellana said he knew he wanted to find a way to make football a part of his everyday life, but as a full-time officer, single dad and college student, carving out time was difficult.
“Between going to school and caring for my mom, I just didn’t really have time,” he said.
After Mellana obtained his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from National University in November 2013, he was ready to play.
JOINING THE TEAM
Mellana joined OC Lawmen for their 2014 season.
Last year, the team won a few games, but Mellana said they are prepared for a winning season in 2015.
“I think we have a good chance of actually going to the championship this season,” he said. “The way we’re going to play the game is different (than in year’s past). It will be more fast-paced.”
OC Lawmen, founded in 1978, has members from agencies in Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties including Anaheim, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
While its members get on the field for their love of the game, it isn’t the only reason they join.
OC Lawmen also donates money collected at games to charities such as Special Olympics Southern California and Project 999, which supports the families of fallen peace officers.
“I love being part of a team, and everyone is out there to support the same causes,” he said. “It’s really neat that we get a chance to raise money for these groups.”
Mellana also likes sharing the game with his 7-year-old daughter, Aubree.
She wears his helmet and pads around the house, cheers on her dad at his games and endearingly questions his athleticism.
“Daddy, who’s the best player on your team?”
“Well I am, of course,” Mellana tells her jokingly.
“No, no. Who’s the best best?”
Although Aubree may not buy that her dad is the best best on the team, she will be at every game loyally cheering him on.
She will even travel with the team this year when they play in Austin, Texas.
When Mellana now exits the locker room, he scans the crowd for his daughter.
He walks the sidelines, shares a look with her, but not without remembering his first biggest fan.
“When I go out and play now, it reminds me of my mom,” he said. “That’s one of the things I play for.”