Givens earns team award for his hard work

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski The Blue’s Kevin Givens, an Altoona Area High School graduate, pursues a ball carrier for the White on Saturday.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Kevin Givens has always said he didn’t know how his career at Penn State would unfold, only that he would work as hard as he could to make the most of things.

That hard work and dedication, combined with tremendous physical strength and speed for a big man, have helped make Givens a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line.

The humble young man, a product of Altoona Area High School, was asked again Saturday if things have gone as planned, just a short while after he received a prestigious honor from his PSU coaches.

“I’m pretty happy the way it’s going right now,” Givens said with a smile. “I’m just blessed to be here, and I’m excited for what the future holds.”

Givens was named the recipient of the Jim O’Hora award, which goes to the Nittany Lion defensive player who best exemplifies hard work, loyalty and improvement during spring football.

Givens is the first player from Blair County to ever receive one of PSU’s major spring awards, the others being the Red Worrell award (for an offensive player) and the Frank Patrick total commitment award.

“I was focused this spring to get better, and I really got after it,” Givens said following Saturday’s Blue-White Game, a 21-10 victory for the Blue.

“I feel like I still have something to prove to the coaches that I could be a dominant player.”

Givens, a key contributor on defense for two years, still has two years left at PSU to develop into that dominant player. The redshirt junior has been very good at times, but also a little inconsistent, so he’s in a position to know what it feels like to excel, while also understanding he still needs to improve to reach his full potential.

That potential is enormous, something the Penn State coaches have known for some time with Givens, a 6-foot-1, 275-pound workhorse and one of the strongest players on the team.

He’s also one of the most versatile players on the squad, which increases his value immensely.

“A little bit raw when he got here,” defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. “Now we’ve got a guy who can play defensive end, he can play nose tackle, he can play three technique, he can go in the three down and play the end spot, he can play the zero, and makes plays.”

Givens’ versatility on the defensive line helped Penn State last season, but it also might have set his development back a bit at his primary position of defensive tackle. He was forced to play some defensive end because of personnel issues on the line, and while that could be the case again this year, the plan is to have him start and stay at tackle.

Having a home should help him improve in one important area.

“He’s a guy that his season was a little bit of a roller coaster,” Pry said. “So we look for consistency, and that’s the way he practiced this spring. That’s why he won that award. He was very consistent in his efforts, in his technique and his production.”

Pry also noted the expectation for Givens is to “go out there consistently, week in and week out, and play a first-team all-conference caliber defensive tackle. That’s what we’re looking for.”

The coaches would see that level of play at times from Givens last year, but there were other instances when his effectiveness dipped.

“You want to feel really good about what you’re putting out there at each of those 11 spots, and now I feel like with Kevin we know what we’re going to get when we put him out there. There’s not going to be a lapse in his play,” Pry said.

“He’s in a good place. And he’s got to go out there and do it this fall, and that will be an important piece for us defensively for him to play that way week in and week out.”

Givens got a lot of playing time as a true freshman in 2016, which was big for him because it increased his confidence level right away that he could make an impact.

“Going in there your first time is definitely scary,” he said. “You get nervous a lot. So it’s definitely good to play early.”

He’s played so much now and has such good potential that the coaches have begun comparing him to recent PSU standout tackle Anthony Zettel, who’s now with the Detroit Lions.

“My first year, I learned under Zettel. I still talk to him,” Givens said. “We’re kind of the same body type, and with ‘Z’ being in the NFL, that means a lot to me.”

Givens has a good chance to follow in Zettel’s footsteps and make it to the NFL. He already has learned a lot by getting on the field so much his first two seasons, and the best should be yet to come.

“He doesn’t say a word. He works, he works, he works,” Pry said before later adding, “He wants to be great. I can’t say enough good things about him right now.”