Kevin Givens began playing football in fifth grade, and he can't really remember the reason. He thought it was just because his friends were playing.
Then, after his freshman year, Givens had a realization.
"I thought," Givens said, "that I could do something with football."
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Kevin Givens also was getting a lot of interest from Penn State and Michigan.
That he has. Over his first two seasons, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior defensive end/outside linebacker has been a terror to ballcarriers and quarterbacks alike that line up against the Altoona Area High School Mountain Lions. He's been called by some possibly the best football prospect at the school since Mike Reid.
On Tuesday afternoon, Givens took advantage of that talent and made a verbal commitment to the University of Pittsburgh.
"I just felt it was the right decision," Givens said. "It's close to home. I know a lot of people that went to Pitt. It felt like the right decision to make. It felt like home."
Givens picked the Panthers over Temple, Western Michigan and Massachusetts, but he also was drawing attention from Penn State and Michigan and he felt the Nittany Lions and Wolverines were close to offering scholarships.
Givens, who had been to a Pitt junior day earlier this month, called Panther linebackers coach Chris Haering to give him the news and then talked to head coach Paul Chryst, as well. Chryst had been through Altoona after the season on a recruiting trip, and there actually had been false rumors that Givens had committed to the Panthers back in December.
"I like the big city. It's different from Altoona," Givens said when asked about some of the things he was looking for in a college. "I like how everything is set up and how they are going to use me for defensive purposes and the coaching staff."
Givens was both an Altoona Mirror first-team regional all-star and a WPIAL Foothills Conference first-team all-star in 2013, when he finished tied for the Mountain Lions team lead with 59 tackles, including 14 for loss and seven sacks despite other teams efforts to stay away from him. He also recovered two fumbles and scored one defensive touchdown.
Givens also was Altoona's second leading rusher and receiver and topped the team with six touchdowns, but his future is on the defensive side of the ball.
He expects to play outside linebacker for the Panthers.
"They use their linebackers rushing from the outside," Givens said, "and that's where I feel I play best. They showed me schemes and film, and I felt I'd fit in perfectly."
Givens said about 75 percent of what he's been able to do so far has just been raw ability, but he's been working to develop the skills and nuances of playing linebacker or a stand-up defensive end in college.
"I just need to learn technique to become a complete overall player," Givens said. "I feel all of my coaches, recent and past, have helped develop me into the player I am.
"They [the Pitt coaches] told me just to keep on working hard. They can help get me where I want to go. The sky's the limit for me."
The Panther coaches aren't the only ones that feel that way. Western Pennsylvania talent evaluator and seven-on-seven travel team organizer Ayo Fapohunda felt Givens was being very under-recruited and mentioned him in the same breath with former Penn State star LaVar Arrington.
"After watching his highlight tape from his junior year, not only are we ready to crown him top LB in the state, but also believe he may be one of the most intriguing prospects in the country," Fapohunda wrote in his Preps.com blog a month ago. "With offers only from Pitt and Temple, don't be surprised to start seeing Givens receiving some major D1 attention from the likes of Ohio State, Alabama, and of course nearby Penn State once staffs refocus on class of 2015. With the size, speed, and strength that all coaches are looking for, Givens has to be one of the better looking linebacker prospects we've seen in this area in years."
Givens compares his game to that of Denver Bronco Von Miller. He said, though, he wants to keep a level head and not get ahead of himself.
"I just want to play college football for now and see where it goes from there, to be honest," Givens said.
Givens grew up an Ohio State fan. Asked what he thought he might think about joining the Buckeyes if Urban Meyer made a scholarship offer in the next few months, Givens hesitated only briefly.
"No," Givens said. "I'm pretty settled that I am going to go to Pitt."