Wittenberg Tigers coach Joe Fincham remains loyal to Mike Minette, his longtime barber on East Main Street. He doesn’t plan to switch to Jeff Tiffner, his senior wide receiver whose cuts on the field after catches match the tight trims he makes at Nice Cuts, his barbershop on Mitchell Boulevard adjacent to Carleton Davidson Stadium.
“I have these reoccurring thoughts of walking out of there with something obscene cut into the back of my head,” Fincham joked. “I also have a problem getting over the fact that they call him the Butcher.”
» LOOKING BACK: It’s never too late to play at Wittenberg
While Fincham may never trust Tiffner with a blade, he trusts him on the field. Tiffner ranks fifth in NCAA Division III in touchdown catches (11). He also leads Wittenberg in catches (42) and receiving yards (548).
Tiffner even threw a touchdown pass Saturday in Wittenberg’s 38-23 victory over DePauw, taking a hand-off from Jake Kennedy, faking a run and then throwing across the field to Kennedy for the score.
“He’s had an outstanding year,” Fincham said. “He just always finds ways to make plays.”
Tiffner finds a way to make money at Nice Cuts, too, even without the head coach’s business. Offensive coordinator Reed Florence lets Tiffner work on his hair. Co-defensive coordinator Brannon Dunn and assistant coaches Zack Jenkins and Brian Cooper do the same.
A parade of teammates also keep Tiffner busy. More than half of his clients wear the red and white on Saturdays. Some have sat for Tiffner throughout their college careers. More and more freshmen visit him as the season progresses.
Being perhaps the only licensed barber in college football is only part of what makes the Tiffner story unique. At 26 years old, he’s the oldest Wittenberg player and one of the oldest players in the country. Colorado has a kicker from Australia who’s 31, making even Tiffner look like a kid.
» PHOTOS: Wittenberg vs. DePauw
Tiffner graduated from Kenton Ridge High School in 2011 and enrolled at the Ohio State College of Barber Styling in Columbus the next spring, working sometimes as much as 50 hours per week to complete the 1,800-hour program in a year.
Then in the spring semester of 2015, Tiffner enrolled at Wittenberg with the plan of playing football that fall. He provided an immediate spark as a kick returner and has turned into a key wide receiver the last three seasons.
Tiffner’s age hasn’t slowed him. He has improved his numbers in each of his four seasons and will try to write another chapter in his memorable story at 1 p.m. Saturday when the eight-ranked and undefeated Tigers (7-0, 6-0) play their biggest North Coast Athletic Conference rival, Wabash, at Edwards-Maurer Field.
The five-year break Tiffner took between the end of his high school career in 2010 and the start of his college career makes Tiffner appreciate the game even more.
“It means a lot to me,” Tiffner said. “A lot of people ask me why I did this. I gave up my life for this. I put my life on hold. I had my life figured out. I knew what I was doing. I had a job. I put all that on hold to go back and do this dream I’ve always had, which is to play college football. To do it now is pretty rewarding.”
Tiffner has a flexible schedule at Nice Cuts. It often looks like this: 3:30-7 p.m. on Mondays; 9 a.m to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; and 10-11 a.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. He fits the job around his class and practice schedules.
“It’s just kind of, ‘When can I make the hours work?’” Tiffner said. “I have class in the afternoon. I usually try to work a couple hours before class. Once class is over, if I can (cut) for an hour or two, I’ll do that, go to practice, get done with practice, get some dinner, watch some film. If I can make it back for another hour or two at night time, I can do that.”
Tiffner charges $15 for a cut, and it helps him pay the bills, though he’ll still have student loans to pay off when he graduates. Teammates ask for discounts, but Tiffner said he charges everyone the full amount because this is his profession and not a hobby.
» WITT BASKETBALL: High hopes for Tigers as practice begins
Wide receiver Bryce Bailey raved about the reasonable price and the quality of the cuts as he sat in the barber’s chair Monday. Tiffner cuts Bailey’s hair every two weeks.
“This is my guy,” said Bailey, who ranks second on the team behind Tiffner with 26 catches, as Tiffner worked on him. “My hair grows fast.”
Bailey made sure to get an appointment this week, knowing it will be a busy time for Tiffner. Senior Day is Saturday. Bailey, Tiffner, Kennedy and 17 other seniors will play their last regular-season home game, though if they can win their last three games, they likely would earn a home playoff game as well.
It’s a group that has a chance to become the first class to beat Wabash three years in a row and the first class to win three straight outright North Coast Athletic Conference championships since the 2001 seniors. Wittenberg has won 21 straight games in the regular season.
“It’s a culture here,” Bailey said. “It’s something we hold to a high standard all the from the top to the bottom. I think Tiff would agree. We put in the work. We work very hard, and we don’t worry about what other people do. We just control what we can do. We know what Fincham does works.”
“I agree for sure,” Tiffner said. “I think the ride’s been incredible. It’s been the best time of my life. I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and will ever have. I’ve learned a lot of core values about life I’ll take with me after college and after football. That’s one of the best things about it.”
In short, Tiffner has helped make his teammates look good on and off the field. He cut the hair of Bailey and Kennedy on Monday as a reporter interviewed them.
“How important is it to look good as a college football player?” Kennedy was asked.
“It’s definitely up there on my list of priorities,” Kennedy said with a laugh. “You look good, you feel good. You feel good, you play good.”
“How much does Tiffner help you look good?”
“Helps me a ton,” Kennedy said.
“It’s hard to help him,” joked Tiffner.
“I look good regardless, but he definitely helps me out a little bit,” Kennedy said. “I’ve noticed the cuts are getting better the more targets he gets. I’ve just got to make sure I keep that up.”
As for Tiffner, once this season ends, he will continue studying and plans to graduate in the spring with a degree in sports management. He hopes to work at Rogue Fitness after graduation and continue cutting hair. He wants to keep the football dream alive as well.
“I’d like to try and get a pro day and see if I can do anything with it,” Tiffner said. “I ran a 4.38 in the 40 at the beginning of fall camp so who knows what can happen, and if nothing happens with it then, oh well, I can say I tried! I’ve chased this dream this long, I might as well keep going.”
Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to exclusive deals and newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.