As a ninth-grader at Eden Prairie High School, Melvin De-Souza was an avowed couch potato, content to come straight home from school, do home work and watch TV.

"I was just a dude going home after school," he said. "I didn't feel like playing sports."

But his size, strength and athletic ability made him the target of repeated requests to give organized sports a try.

He did, taking up football and wrestling, and wonders now what took him so long.

De-Souza was the Eagles' defensive standout in the Prep Bowl, making eight tackles -- two for loss -- and forcing two fumbles.

He is also among the top wrestlers in the state, with a No. 7 ranking in Class 3A 195-pounders.

"I don't know why I didn't go out," he said. "I had low expectations of myself. But I'm really glad now that I did."

Staff writer Jim Paulsen recently talked with De-Souza.

Q How does if feel to say you're a state champion?

A I just can't explain how great it feels. It's still stuck in my head. The best part is that no one gave us a chance to beat Wayzata.

Q You played probably your best game in the Prep Bowl. Why?

A That's such a big rivalry and it was my last game. I wanted to make it great.

Q Did you have any idea going into the game that you would play that well?

A Not really. The game prior to that, against Totino-Grace, I wasn't that great. I didn't really know how I was going to play.

Q What play in that game stood out to you?

A Taking the ball out of the hands of their running back, No. 22. He was trying to cut -- I think he was trying to cut -- and I just went in and took it. I wanted to run it in [to the end zone], but I tripped.

Q Has it been hard to switch over to wrestling?

A Kind of. I don't feel comfortable yet on the mat. Wrestling is a real uncomfortable sport, anyway. It's tough to go from tackling to a different kind of takedown.

Q Which sport do you prefer?

A Football. I like wrestling, but I really love playing football.

Q Why do you think you've been able to have success in both sports after getting such a late start?

A Mainly because of my work ethic. I'm a hard worker. And because I don't have as much intelligence in those sports as someone who has played them longer, I feel like I have to work even harder.

Q How has becoming an athlete helped you in school?

A Well, I've always gotten good grades. I focus on my grades. But now I can walk into the school and feel pretty good about myself. Everyone says hi, the teachers say hi. It's made a great improvement in my life.

Q Have you ever helped motivate another student to get involved in sports?

A Actually, it's weird. Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking to a freshman who didn't know if he wanted to go out for wrestling. I told him ''You know what? You've just got to dive in and do it." He took my advice. Now he's lifting and training hard.

Q What's the hardest thing about wrestling?

A The fatigue, mostly. Like I said, wrestling is a very uncomfortable sport.