Gary Melton knew his middle son was ready to take his football career to another level by his sleeping patterns last summer.

Or perhaps by his non-sleeping patterns.

"I asked him, 'Where do you want to go with this football thing?' " said Gary Melton, a former football and track star at Absegami High School who played three seasons of football for Rutgers University from 1989 to 1991. "He said he wanted to take it as far as he could.

"So I said, 'OK, I get up at 5 every morning. If you're serious, you come work out with me every morning.'

"Guess what? He was in the car every day."

Bo Melton's work ethic, elite athleticism, and versatility combined to produce one of the best all-around seasons by an offensive player in recent South Jersey history.

A 6-foot-1, 185-pound junior, Melton led Cedar Creek to the South Jersey Group 2 championship, capping his breakout season with a breathtaking performance in the sectional final Dec. 6 against six-time champion West Deptford.

After scoring 11 touchdowns as a runner, 11 as a receiver, and 24 in total for a 10-2 team that won division and sectional titles, Melton is South Jersey's offensive player of the year.

"When the season started, people were saying, 'Bo, you've got to make a name for yourself,' " Bo Melton said. "Now people are telling me I'm the best player in the state.

"I'm blessed. I'm fortunate to have this opportunity to make plays and help my teammates."

West Deptford's Clyde Folsom, who has been a head coach since the late 1980s, said Melton was "one of the best I've seen in a long time" after the electrifying athlete led Cedar Creek to a 28-27 victory in the sectional final.

In that game, Melton ran for 120 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, generated 71 yards on eight receptions, and threw a 38-yard touchdown pass.

It was a typical all-around game for Melton, who carried the ball 105 times for 748 yards this season and also caught 41 passes for 913 yards.

Melton threw three passes this season - two of which went for touchdowns.

"He was just awesome all season," Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said. "Anytime we needed him to make a play, he made a play.

"He just has that knack. He just has the ability to produce when we need him."

Melton credits his father as well as his older brother, Gary Melton Jr., with his development as an elite athlete. The family has another boy, Malachi, an eighth grader who is expected to enroll at Cedar Creek in the fall.

"When I was a kid, I always would think about what my brother did and how I could do it too," Bo Melton said.

Melton has received scholarship offers from Old Dominion, Boston College, and Rutgers, where both his parents were varsity athletes. His mother, Vicky, was a basketball player.

Before this season, Bo Melton still was a bit of an unknown in South Jersey football circles, based on his solid but unspectacular performance as a sophomore.

But Melton's father said he knew this summer that his middle son was set to rocket into prominence.

"I could tell how much he wanted it," Gary Melton said. "It wasn't me pushing him. He was doing it himself. I'd go out to the car at 5 o'clock in the morning and he would be out there, waiting for me."