Late-Model Lincoln : Though Driven to Play, Reserve, 30, Is Just Happy to Be on a Team

Times Staff Writer

Defensive coordinator Steve Breda blankets the Moorpark College secondary with quick, tough cornerbacks and safeties.

His linebackers are strapping young men who honed their skills in high school. His safeties run the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds or less.

If swift, agile players are a Breda staple, what's he doing with Don Lincoln, a 30-year-old right tackle who lumbers through the 40 in 4.9 seconds?

Not much.

"He's not a ballplayer," Breda stated frankly. "He's a last-place tackler who will never see the field unless it's a blowout."

Breda's assessment would not surprise Lincoln, who has more experience working the docks and driving a truck than he does playing tackle.

Lincoln knows his playing time will be measured in minutes, not games, this season. But that's not important. He's just glad to wear a Raider uniform, even if it doesn't get soiled.

"Last year, football was real foreign to me," Lincoln said. "This year it's a lot easier. I have the time to do it now so I'm going after it."

Lincoln, who turns 31 on Thursday, played his first down of organized football at age 29. He saw limited action on Moorpark's defense last season but still earned the team's outstanding achievement award.

Why he plays at all is a question coaches often ask.

"Physically, he's just as tough as anybody," Breda said. "But he absorbs more than he delivers. He doesn't know how to throw a blow."

Lincoln didn't play football at Manual Arts High because of his size--5-7 1/2, 150 pounds. Then, after graduating in 1974, he went to work in the family cleaning business, married, had a son, and was divorced.

But Lincoln, who has grown two inches and gained 43 pounds since high school, never lost his desire to play football.

"A lot of people think it's crazy to play," Lincoln said. "But football was something I always wanted to do. If you don't chase your dreams, you'll never know."

Jim Bittner is not used to coaching players in their 30s. Lincoln is the oldest player in Bittner's eight-year coaching tenure at Moorpark.

"They usually eliminate themselves," Bittner said. "I thought it would happen with Don, too, but he hung right in there."

Lincoln has had no trouble being accepted by his teammates--they call him "Papa Don"--and he's affable and eager to please his coaches. Bittner calls him a hard worker.

"He's a good guy to have around who just loves football," Bittner said. "Anything you ask him to do, he does."

Bittner doesn't expect Lincoln to fulfill his goal of starting a game.

"Everybody can't be the star," Bittner said. "We're really not counting on him to be a player. He just likes being on the team."

Lincoln takes his position seriously, anyway. He would rather stay home studying his playbook the night before a game than go out. He's waited too long for a chance to play to overlook any sacrifice now.

"I get a good feeling just being out there," Lincoln said.

Lincoln's girlfriend, Dina Wheatly, doesn't share that feeling.

"I feel like I hinder him because I keep reminding him how much older he is," Wheatly said. "You can't go back 10 years, but he doesn't want to hear it."

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