When David Mustin watches his nephews play football, he doesn't think about the neck injury he suffered when he was 15-years old, which put him in a wheelchair.
BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER
David Mustin watches his nephews play football with pride. This is a trait not uncommon to uncles, but what makes Mustin’s situation different is that he’s confined to a wheelchair, the result of an injury he suffered playing football at Seabreeze High School.
“I actually hadn’t planned on playing at Seabreeze,” Mustin said, adding that he was more focused on baseball. “But I decided to go ahead and play. And I made it through my whole first year just fine.”
But then, during a spring practice, Mustin went to make a routine tackle and tucked his head too low. The hit resulted in several neck fractures.
“It was just one of those freak things that happened,” he said. “I had the birth defect in my neck that we didn’t know about, which played a pretty big part in the severity of the injury.
“After that, I mean, it’s been kind of like a non-stop journey.”
Mustin, prior to the injury, also surfed and played baseball.
“It wasn’t football,” Mustin said. “I mean, it happened playing football, but it could’ve been anything. So there was no reason for me to hate football. I mean, I still love it.”
Ryan Fulcher and Jordan Lilley are Mustin’s nephews. Fulcher is a freshman at Seabreeze, playing offensive line for the JV team. Lilley, 12, is a tight end on the Ormond Beach Pride JV team.
Their grandfather, Gene Mustin, said the family understands what can result from playing football and initially set out discouraging Fulcher and Lilley from playing.
But when Fulcher decided he wanted to play, his family supported him.
“(Playing) was his choice,” Gene Mustin said. “He wanted to do it and we all supported him. Just like we’re supporting Jordan now.”
While the family never stops cheering Fulcher and Lilley during football games, it isn’t without worry.
“I’m not going to deny that I paid the money," Kathy Fulcher, Ryan's mother said. "I’m like, 'Maybe he’ll go out there and get tackled the first time and (say), Eh, no thanks. Two-hundred dollars well spent. ... But that didn’t happen.”
Fulcher and Lilley both say what happened to their uncle doesn’t enter into their mind when playing. They say they know something like that could happen to anyone. Their parents, uncle and grandparents know this, too.
This family is not uncommon. As they say about Mustin, "he's still David."
They often push him beyond his comfort zone, Mustin says. He knows they have his back.
“There’s a lot of improvising,” Gene Mustin said. “It’s a step at a time. So if you run across a situation where you have a difficulty, we find a way to get around it.
Like the first time Mustin watched Fulcher play an organized high school game. It was on the very field where he suffered his neck injury.
It felt weird at first, he said, but that feeling quickly faded. After all, he wasn't there for him; he was there to support his nephew.