Mel was an All—State linebacker on Elgin High School's 10—1 conference championship team in 1977. He went on to distinguish himself in the Big Ten at the University of Iowa. He starred on the 1981 team, which won the conference title and Iowa's first trip to the Rose Bowl in 23 years. Mel was chosen his team's MVP in the Rose Bowl game played January 1, 1982. He topped the Hawkeye defense with 125 tackles as a junior and 94 as a senior when he was placed on the All—Big Ten first team, received an honorable mention as an All—American, and was named Iowa's MVP.