Safety Jay Mastin’s beard doesn’t quite reach lumberjack status. It’s a training camp beard that kept going.
“My goal is to have a real nice playoff beard,” Mastin said.
There was a time when Wittenberg Tigers coach Joe Fincham might have had a problem with that.
“We started having some guys that wanted them,” Fincham said. “I quit fighting it. I basically just left it at this: as long as they’re manicured somewhat and we don’t look like ZZ Top getting off the bus or a grunge band, I think I’ll be OK.”
As the second-oldest Wittenberg football player, the Centerville High School graduate Mastin ought to get some leeway when it comes to personal grooming. He’s a sixth-year player who turned 23 in January. Only wide receiver Jeff Tiffner, 25, is older.
Mastin redshirted as a freshman at Miami University in 2012, played the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the RedHawks, transferred to Wittenberg in 2015 and then missed all of last season after tearing his medial patellofemoral ligament in the first week of practice.
Now he’s back on the field and one of the top players for a unit that ranks sixth in NCAA Division III in scoring defense (9.3 points per game). Mastin intercepted two passes Saturday in a 28-12 victory over Denison at Edwards-Maurer Field and was named North Coast Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
Of course, just being back in the game is a big enough reward for Mastin.
“It is just awesome,” Mastin said after practice Wednesday. “Having to sit out all last year was terrible. It was supposed to be my senior year. I got blessed and got a medical redshirt and took it and I’m having the time of my life.”
Mastin’s suffered the injury while planting his leg during a drill. He waited a few weeks to see if he could recover from it and play in 2016.
“I found out surgery was needed,” Mastin said, “and it was going to be a long recovery.”
Mastin missed all of spring practices, too. He didn’t start running until the beginning of summer.
“Rehab was tough, but it was the guys who got me through it,” Mastin said. “A couple of other guys were doing rehab. Just being around them all offseason and just the fire and the motivation, it made every day easier.”
The knee has not been in his mind in the first four games this season. He has 24 tackles and leads the NCAC with three interceptions. The No. 14 Tigers (4-0, 3-0) return to action at 3 p.m. Saturday at Hiram (1-3, 0-3).
“We’re really proud of our defense right now,” Mastin said. “The chip all the guys have, the energy, the way we’re playing, we’re having so much fun.”