Powerful junior turns tables on teams by playing multiple positions
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
Associate Sports Editor
Name the Irish player who threw for the longest pass of the season, a 52-yarder to Joey Getherall.
Name the player who leads the team in receiving.
Name the player who blocked a punt against Stanford to set up a Notre Dame touchdown.
Name the player who rushed for a five-yard touchdown against West Virginia.
Name the player who provided the key block on Terrance Howard's 80-yard touchdown run against West Virginia.
Name the player who trails only Julius Jones in kick returns.
The answer to all of the above is David Givens, a junior who makes himself at home at almost any position on the field.
"I don't have a favorite position. Basically, I'm out there to try to help our team win, and anything that will contribute to us winning, I'm comfortable with," Givens said. "Whether it's blocking, running, catching or throwing, that's my role."
Givens learned to run the gamut of posts as a prep player in Texas, where high school football highlights relegate all else to second-tier importance.
"We were the Humble Wildcats, and we had paw prints going all the way down the streets with the coaches' names on them," Givens said. "Football is a really big thing in Texas. Just like Notre Dame football's big-time here, at my high school and a lot of high schools down there, football is a huge thing."
At Humble High School near Houston, Givens played eight positions — even more than he sees action at for the Irish. During his senior season, he contributed to his team as a receiver, running back, quarterback, linebacker, cornerback, safety, punt/kick returner and punter.
His ability to adapt to numerous spots grabbed the interest of Notre Dame coaches.
"David can do a lot of things. That's why he's so productive for us," head coach Bob Davie said. "I think he's a wide receiver, but he does have the skills of a running back. He'd like to tell you he has the skills of a quarterback, but I'm not sure it's quite that way."
Despite being an honorable mention All-America pick in high school, it took Givens a couple years to become fully entrenched in Notre Dame's system.
"The first two years, he didn't play up to potential," receivers coach Urban Meyer said. "I think he pushed too hard, and he was concerned about other things instead of just being a receiver, because he really wasn't a wide receiver."
This season, Givens has polished his play, which now gleams brighter than the gold on the Irish helmets.
"His numbers should be greater than what they are, but we went through a part of the year where we weren't very effective on offense," Meyer said. "He's starting to get some of the statistics that he should have. We're at the point where he's a legit playmaker for us. He's going to be an NFL prospect as a receiver."
Notre Dame's aerial attack was limited by its quarterback quandary for much of the season, so Givens has caught just 16 passes, averaging 13.8 yards per reception. With Matt LoVecchio on his way to becoming a veteran signal-caller, Givens hopes to get additional looks at the pigskin.
"With the quarterback situation kind of solid now, I think there are going to be more balls coming to the receiver," Givens said. "Being versatile does help get the ball in my hands more."
Despite leading the Irish in receiving, Givens has had as much success, if not more, in other facets of his game. Without Givens' blocked punt against Stanford, Notre Dame would have been minus a touchdown and lost the game 14-13. If Givens hadn't put up a strong front for Howard on his ramble against West Virginia, rushed for a touchdown of his own and set up another scoring play with his downfield pass to Getherall, the Irish might not have halted their two-year-long losing streak on the road.
"David Givens, what he contributes to the team a lot of people don't even see," Meyer said. "He's a phenomenal player on special teams. He's in the top five on the team in special teams points awarded. "He's our best blocker downfield," Meyer continued. "He's made plays coming out of the backfield, and he's our leading receiver. In my mind, he's one of the top players on this football team."
Givens is a brawny player whose size helps him morph between positions. The Notre Dame media guide lists him at 6-foot-3, which Givens claims is an exaggeration of his actual 6-foot-1 frame. Regardless, his muscular 215-pound physique is an asset.
"I think my size does help a lot to play the different positions," Givens said.
He no longer takes the field at linebacker like in high school, but still thinks he could be a two-way player.
"Maybe next year I'll talk to the coaches and ask them if it's possible," Givens said. "We have a lot of talent on defense at the skill positions, a lot of talent. I don't know if it's possible [to play two ways], but I would love to do it."
Davie's not so sure a switch to defense is in the works for Givens.
"If we stay healthy, we probably won't need to do that, but I'm not making any strong statements that we definitely won't," Davie said. "I was here last year, and we had all available candidates out here by the end of the season."
As long as the Irish secondary and tailback corps remain off the disabled list, Givens' best options for playmaking remain as a wide receiver. If that will keep the Irish winning and Givens improving, playing receiver is fine with him. He just wants to make kindergarten dreams come true.
"It is my goal to play in the NFL. I've been playing tackle football since I was six years old, and ever since then, that was my goal," Givens said. "If God blesses me, if it's God's will, I think it will be done."
Since age 6, Givens has remained focused on his daydream of becoming a professional football star. It's a fantasy that seemed to come into closer grasp after Givens' high school teammate, David Boston, was selected in the first round of the NFL draft out of Ohio State.
The two athletes grew up playing Little League football and running summer track side by side. Boston, also a receiver, graduated from Humble High School when Givens was just a sophomore. By Boston's junior year at Ohio State, he had impressed scouts enough to leave college early as the eighth pick in the draft.
"Him going to the NFL as a junior was kind of an incentive that pushed me to work harder because I thought our abilities were pretty close," Givens said. "If he can do it, I think I can do it too."
All Sports Stories for Friday, October 27, 2000