Givens flips: Altoona standout spurns Pitt for Penn State

Almost since Kevin Givens committed to the University of Pittsburgh – and, honestly, possibly even before that day almost one year ago – people have thought it might just a matter of time before Altoona Area High School’s star defensive end found his way to Penn State.

It was at the 11th hour, but it finally happened.

Less than 24 hours before he and teammates Eli Mencer and Anthony Roefaro signed their Division I college letters-of-intent this morning in Altoona High’s Kimmel Board Room, Givens changed his mind about heading west to play for the Panthers and decided to stick a little closer to home and join the Nittany Lions.

“I’m officially decommitting from Pittsburgh University and committing to The Penn State University thank you for everyones support #WeAre,” the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Class AAAA all-state and Big 33 selection posted on his Twitter page late Tuesday afternoon.

That actually was a few hours after BlueWhite Illustrated’s Ryan Snyder and other recruiting analysts began reporting that Givens was flipping from Pitt to Penn State and Penn State coach James Franklin and co-recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis tweeted that the Lions had gotten another verbal commitment.

Givens also listed on his Twitter profile “814 -> Happy Valley Follow me on my journey”.

Attempts to reach Givens through his school, email and social media were not successful. Altoona coach John Franco, though, said it was a whirlwind of activity from the moment he arrived at school Tuesday morning to find Givens waiting in his room.

“It was shocking. He’s never in there. I wasn’t sure what was going on,” Franco said. “He said, ‘Coach, Penn State offered me. What should I do?’

“It was a bombshell.”

Franco said he advised Givens to take some time and think it over, even waiting until this morning. However, Franco knew Penn State was always high on Givens’ list.

“He said, ‘My life’s dream has always been to play for Penn State,'” Franco said. “I told him, ‘Well, that’s something you’re going to have to decide.'”

Franco has said in the past that Givens probably would have committed to Penn State early in the process had the Nittany Lions pushed for a pledge early in the process. However, Franklin had just taken over for Bill O’Brien about a month before Givens, on Feb. 18, pulled the trigger and announced he would sign with Pitt.

At the time, Penn State’s scholarships were limited by NCAA sanctions that have since been lifted. Givens is expected to be one of a full complement of 25 recruits in the Nittany Lions’ 2015 class.

Since Givens announced his plans to sign with Pitt, rumors have periodically arisen that Givens had decommitted, reopened his recruiting or even was on the verge of switching his commitment. Givens and Franco consistently quashed those stories.

Still, Givens continued to fuel them. He even appeared on the sidelines at Penn State games in the fall with Mountain Lion teammates Kevin and Devin Miller, who have family ties to Nittany Lion linebackers coach Brent Pry.

Givens played as something of a hybrid defensive end/linebacker in high school, but it appears Penn State sees him lining up on the defensive line. The Lions already have Shareef Miller and Kamonte Carter ticketed for defensive end, too, and Jon Holland could play there, but it appears he’ll get his initial look at tight end.

Several recruiting analysts believed Penn State might pocket the scholarship that Givens is receiving for 2016 if it couldn’t land a quality offensive lineman or defensive tackle to round out this year’s class. Snyder, though, said he wasn’t surprised.

“They wanted another defensive lineman. They need help on the defensive line. He’s got a big body, and he’s a great pass rusher,” Snyder said.

Givens was the focal point of any offensive coordinator preparing for the Mountain Lions this season. Although Altoona doesn’t provide defensive statistics, Givens routinely was singled out by opposing coaches.

“Kevin Givens is a difference-maker. He’s one of the best defensive ends I’ve seen in a long time,” said John Ruane, coach of WPIAL semifinalist Penn-Trafford.

“Great player,” Latrobe coach Jason Marucco added before he faced Altoona. “He’s going to Pitt for a reason.”

Altoona finished 8-3, its first winning season since 2007, and made it to the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals.

A consensus three-star prospect according to the scouting services, Givens was first-team all-Foothills Conference twice and made the Mirror’s all-region first team two times, as well. He recently became the first Altoona player picked for the Big 33 Game since Brendan Perretta following the 2002 campaign and in December became the first Mountain Lion named first-team all-state by the Associated Press or the Pennsylvania Football Writers since Sean Shannon and Matt McNelis in 2003.

Givens also became the first Altoona player ever named to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Fabulous 22.

Givens is the second recruit Penn State has swung from Pitt in eight days, joining Kittanning tight end Nick Bowers. On Saturday, Pittsburgh Central Catholic safety Johnny Petrishen also picked Penn State over the Panthers, who have 15 commitments heading into signing day after former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi took over the program when Paul Chryst accepted the head coaching job at Wisconsin.

Some of the Penn State and Pitt coaches have been sparring on social media since Narduzzi’s staff arrived. Gattis might have fired a shot across Pitt’s bow on Twitter Tuesday when before writing “WeAre..Better!”, Penn State’s traditional announcement of a commitment.

“When negative recruiting goes wrong………… Don’t awake a giant by throwing stones!,” Gattis tweeted.

“I don’t know anything about that,” Snyder said. “But James Franklin is a tireless recruiter. He’s leaving no stone unturned. He’s going to go after anyone he thinks can help his team.”