Altoona grad Givens leaving for NFL

In a very surprising and somewhat risky career move, Penn State defensive tackle Kevin Givens has decided to give up his final season of college eligibility and enter the NFL draft a year early.

The Altoona Area High School product made the announcement on social media Wednesday night, the day after he recorded two sacks in the Nittany Lions’ 27-24 loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl.

“This community of people is something really special,” Givens wrote in his statement. “I grew as a football player, but more importantly, this place helps you grow as a person. It was and is an honor to play at Penn State.

“I want to thank my brothers, the coaching staff, administrative support staff and my professors for an incredible three and a half years. To my Wild Dogs, I love y’all. You all have made a dream come true for this kid from Altoona. I will forever cherish my memories here.”

After indicating he plans to turn pro, Givens concluded by saying, “Although I’m moving on, a piece of my soul will always live in State College. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Givens did not return a message from the Mirror to further explain his decision.

Givens played extensively and made good progress throughout his PSU career, and he had a solid junior season anchoring the middle of the defensive line. He finished the season with five sacks — including two in each of his final two games — 10¢ tackles for loss and 33 overall tackles (19 solo).

Givens was not, however, named to any all-Big Ten teams this season, even as an honorable mention.

He also has not been highly rated as a prospect for the 2019 draft. Ourlads does not have him rated among its top 24 defensive tackles available for the draft. lists him as the 29th best 3 technique tackle available, and the No. 336 prospect overall.

This year’s draft will include 254 picks. All things considered, there’s no guarantee Givens will be drafted. If not, he still should be able to sign a free agent contract and land in team’s camp somewhere.

Had he returned to Penn State for his senior season, Givens could have gained more notoriety and accolades with a big campaign, thereby possibly enhancing his draft stock.

Givens had indicated after a late-season game against Rutgers that he would return to Penn State next season.

“I’ve been having fun. It’s always fun in the season,” he said at that time. “I’m just sad it’s about to be over, but I’ve still got work to do next year. Time goes fast when you’re in college.”

The 6-foot-1, 285-pounder is considered a tremendous worker and workout warrior, impressing his Penn State coaches from the outset of his career with his sheer strength. Those things and his versatility should help Givens’ pro prospects, and if he can gain another 20 pounds and maintain his quickness, he could become a big factor on an NFL defensive line.

“Kevin’s evolution and growth since arriving on campus is impressive,” PSU coach James Franklin said in a team statement. “He came in as a high school outside linebacker and running back and transitioned to defensive end here and then moved to defensive tackle. His versatility was an asset for our team, and we wish him nothing but success at the next level.”

News of Givens’ decision to turn pro elicited well wishes from the Altoona football community.

“We are all proud of him,” Altoona athletic director Phil Riccio said. “He’s worked extremely hard to put himself in this position to gain further success. His motor never stops, and he’s as tough a competitor as I’ve seen.”

Former Altoona coach John Franco, Givens’ head coach in high school, also spoke highly of the young man.

“I am extremely happy for Kevin if this is really what he wants,” Franco said. “I was hoping he would stay another year to become an even higher draft pick next year, but I am hoping he has a representative who is advising him properly on all of this.

“I wish him nothing but the best. He is as hard a worker and as good a kid as you are ever going to find. I just hope he gets his degree, too.”

Neil Rudel contributed to this story.