When brothers Melquan Stovall, from Nevada, and Melquise Stovall, from Hawaii, step on the same field Saturday night at Mackay Stadium, there will be a family reunion in the stands.
The Stovall brothers, who grew up in Lancaster, Calif., expect a couple dozen friends and family to be in attendance. But there is one person, their sister Melkyra, who both brothers wish could cheer them on. Melkyra died in August 2018 in a freak car accident. She was funny, outgoing, friendly and her brothers' biggest fan. But 13 months ago, she died at age 19, a wound that’s yet to heal, that will never heal.
“We will never get through it,” said Melquan, a freshman receiver at Nevada. “It’s something that will be stuck with us forever. Every time I hit the field, she’s with me. I know she always wants me to do good. I can’t take anything for granted because everything can be taken away from me in the blink of an eye.”
Melkyra was the lone person in her car when a Waste Management trash truck attempted a wide turn. The truck misjudged the turn and didn’t see Melkyra’s car. The Stovalls’ lives changed forever.
“It happened Aug. 1,” said Wanda Stovall, mother to Melkyra, Melquan and Melquise. “She tried to fight it, tried to hold on, but they declared her brain-dead Aug. 11 and took her off life support Aug. 14. Just seeing her deteriorate for two weeks was hard on us. With the grace of god, we’ll get through it.”
The Stovalls’ father walked out of their lives 16 years ago, leaving Wanda as a single mom to seven kids, including four boys, Melquan the youngest of the sons. Given the circumstances, family meant everything to the Stovalls, which made losing Melkyra gut-wrenching. Melquan said his sister was kind and respectful.
“She was an angel,” he said. “She was everything you can ask for in a sister.”
Melquan admits it’s been tough without her. A high school senior last season, Stovall tried to honor his sister with his play. In his first game after the accident, Stovall caught eight passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. On the day Melkyra was buried, Melquan had five catches for 74 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 2 minutes left in a 29-25 win over powerhouse Long Beach Poly.
But Stovall struggled through the season. After posting 80 catches for 1,487 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior, Stovall only had 49 receptions for 530 yards and six scores as a senior as he tried to balance mourning his sister with fulfilling his job on the field and tasks in the classroom as he graduated high school a semester early so he could join Nevada in the spring.
“It was a tough time trying to help my mom, seeing her cry every night, her not being herself,” Stovall said. “It was pretty tough. Trying my best to always call and check up on her and see how she’s doing. I would talk to her for 2 hours. Whenever I have free time out here, I call her and let he know I love her.”
Melquan, who joined Nevada in January as a spring enrollee, has felt more like himself the last few months. He was getting ready for football practice when he got that first call from his mom saying Melkyra had been in an accident. At first, the accident wasn't considered serious.
“I wasn’t thinking anything too big of it,” Melquan said. “She’s a strong person. I thought everything was all right until my mom called back and said, ‘Everything is not looking good. There’s blood coming from everywhere.’ It was tough. It was something I couldn’t even imagine. Seeing her like that was horrible. We’ll never get over it, but we’re slowing getting back to our normal lives. But we’ll never be the same.”
Saturday’s game between the Stovalls will be a chance to celebrate not only their sister but their family. Things were never easy for Wanda Stovall, raising seven kids by herself, but her competitiveness and can-do attitude rubbed off on her children, two of which have reached the top level of college football.
“It’s a blessing to see it happen that way,” Wanda said. “That’s why I stressed to them education is important. Playing sports is important because I can’t pay for your education, but you can go out there and work hard and get an athletic scholarship. I’m just glad I have the boys who did do that. They could have chosen anything in life to do and they could have gotten in trouble, but this is what they chose to do. Hopefully they will go far in football. If they don’t, at least they’ll get an education out of it.”
Melquise, who is in his first season at Hawaii, was a big star in high school. A four-star recruit, he was one of the top all-purpose backs in the nation in the 2016 recruiting class. He initially committed to USC before signing with Cal, where he caught 42 passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman.
Melquise used a medical redshirt in 2017 before transfer to a junior college in 2018 after being suspended by Cal for conduct detrimental to the team. He’s been an electric return man for Hawaii this season and has seven catches for 63 yards. Melquise missed Hawaii’s win over Central Arkansas last week with a minor injury but is expected to travel and play against his younger brother, Melquan, on Saturday.
Melquan was a three-star recruit who picked Nevada over more than a dozen offers, including Hawaii, largely because of the university’s academics. Melquan said he learned a lot from his older brothers, including Melquise.
“The biggest lesson was be coachable, never take anything for granted, go 100 percent every practice, learn from every practice and watch a lot of film,” Stovall said. “Those are the big things he passed down.”
Nevada’s coaches rave about Stovall, who as a true freshman isn’t seeing a lot of reps on offense but is one of the half-dozen rookies the Wolf Pack plans on playing this season and burning their redshirt. While Nevada is deep at slot receiver, which is Melquan’s position, his athleticism and football IQ is too good to keep off the field.
“Just a super mature, responsible guy,” Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said. “Great football sense and when you spend time with his family you understand. His family has all been involved in football. He’s been around it all his life. His mom is really competitive, and you can see where he gets it from. Just a smart kid, really dialed into his assignments, really dependable in everything we’ve asked him to do. We can trust him.”
Norvell recalled his in-home visit with the Stovalls during the recruiting process. The whole neighborhood came over for dinner that night, a community supporting a kid looking to get a chance to play college football.
“They’re a very tight-knit family,” said Nevada receivers coach Eric Scott, who was Stovall’s main recruiter. “Even going in on the home visit, they all love each other. It’s a real tight-knit family. It’s really refreshing to be around a family like that. She cares a lot about all of her boys and makes sure she’s doing all the right things for her boys. To have multiple kids go to college and play is awesome.”
The last time Melquan and Melquise shared the field was 2015 when they were teammates in high school when Melquan was a freshman and Melquise a senior at Paraclete High. They’ll be on opposite sidelines this weekend, something both receivers have been looking forward to all season. Wanda Stovall plans on wearing a T-shirt with Melquan’s name on one side and Melquise’s on the other. The only thing missing at Mackay Stadium will be Melkyra. But she’ll be there in spirit.
“This would be the happiest day of her life,” Wanda said. “We always talked about it. We didn’t think it would ever happen. We’ve been waiting for it to happen. I know it’d make her feel good if she saw it.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.