August 5, 2007

Hard road traveled for Mustin

A trip to the bank was on Darren Mustin[db]'s to-do list last Monday. Fortunately for him, he never got a chance to scratch it off.
Alabama's walk-on linebacker was more than ready to sign another round of paperwork to secure the bank loans necessary to keep him enrolled this fall.
But he met with first-year coach [db]Nick Saban[db] earlier in the day, and when he mentioned the loans, Saban gave him a response he'd been waiting more than two years to hear.
"He said not to worry about [going to the bank], and that they were putting me on scholarship," Mustin said. "I tried to leave his office right away so I could just yell and scream, but coach Saban was eating lunch and he asked me to stick around and talk with him for awhile. I finally left and kept it to myself a little more - called my family, called a few friends, and that was it."
As a senior, it was the last chance for Mustin's hard work to pay off with a scholarship.
Mustin put himself in positon for the scholarship during spring practice, when he rose from a reserve role under the Mike Shula regime to the starting job on the weak side under Saban and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.
Last season, mostly in goal line duty, he made eight tackles on 66 snaps. This year as a starter, he could match those eight tackles by the end of the first game.
"It's taken a long time and a lot of work to get this far," Mustin said. "A lot of sweat, a lot of pain."
Mustin, a senior from Brentwood, Tenn., attended Middle Tennessee State for the first two years of his college career. A close relationship with former high school teammate Theo Townsend, an Alabama walk-on at the time, was a major factor in his move to Tuscaloosa.
His perception of walk-ons, predictably, has undergone a major change since his days at MTSU.
"At MTSU, every scholarship player looks at walk-ons, and it's like, 'whatever'," Mustin said. "But being in their shoes, then having to earn another scholarship somewhere else, it makes me respect them so much more."
Mustin's easy-going personality makes him a popular figure among the players, and teammates shared in the excitement. Mustin said fellow walk-on [db]Darwin Salaam was among the first to congratulate him, "because he and I came in together."
Crimson Tide defensive end Wallace Gilberry said nobody deserved it more.
"That kid works harder than almost anyone on the team," Gilberry said. "He's always in the weight room, first there and last to leave. His energy makes him a leader on this defense. His energy sets the bar for me, and you want to be around him."
But the news wasn't only good for Mustin. As one of 14 children, his scholarship was cause for celebration for his parents as well.
"They said 'Thank God'," Mustin said. "Now they can spend their money themselves."
And so can Mustin.

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