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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 8, 2007
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Money is no longer an issue for Mustin

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — It was the middle of summer, and Alabama linebacker Darren Mustin had a cash-flow problem.

A walk-on from Brentwood Academy outside of Nashville, Mustin had to figure out how to get enough money to enroll for his final semester of college. One of 14 children, Mustin figured he would have to take out more student loans and pile up more debt, just so he could finish his degree.

When Mustin told first-year Alabama coach Nick Saban that he would be able to come up with loans to pay for his senior season, Saban told Mustin something that shocked him.

Saban informed Mustin, who had performed well during spring drills, that he was being given a scholarship for the final four months of his education.

"I was like 'whew,' like a big burden was lifted off my shoulders," said Mustin, who is 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds. "Like something is on your back, and you can just let it go and feel 1,000 pounds lighter."

When Mustin transferred to Alabama in 2005 after two seasons at Middle Tennessee State, some might've thought he was crazy.

While he played a little at MTSU, he didn't exactly set the world on fire. As a freshman he played in 11 games, mostly at special teams, and had six tackles. During his sophomore year, he had 19 tackles.

He was quick, but he was small and lacked the size and strength to compete at the high Division I level — or so his former high school coach at Brentwood, Carlton Flatt, thought.

Flatt said Mustin was caught in that "in-between" category — too small to be a linebacker and too slow to be a defensive back.

When Mustin called Flatt to tell him that he wanted to transfer to Alabama, Flatt advised Mustin against it.

"I probably discouraged him there," Flatt said. "But he didn't listen to me. He said, 'I think I can play there.' I said, 'I think you can, but if they thought you could, they would have recruited you.' "

He went against his former coach's wishes and went to Alabama. He sat out the 2005 season as a transfer.

In 2006, Mustin didn't yield much better results with Alabama than he did with MTSU. He played 66 snaps and had eight tackles. Four of those stops came in Alabama's 30-14 win against Duke on Oct. 7.

But something happened in the spring. Maybe it was a better rapport with Saban and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, or maybe Mustin just grew bigger and stronger — something Flatt thinks played a role in his former player's emergence. Whatever it was, Mustin showed the talent to be effective as an inside linebacker in Saban's 3-4 defensive system.

He won the Paul "Bear" Bryant Outstanding Non-Scholarship Player Award after Alabama's A-Day game.

And when newcomers reported Thursday, Saban announced that Mustin had been added to the list of scholarship players, meaning no more student loans.

"I learned new things about myself (as a walk-on)," Mustin said. "I learned new things about people around me. Right now, I am so glad with what I have done. I just worked hard, kept my nose clean and kept my grades up."

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