STAMFORD — With the rest of his team still waiting outside the gate of J. Walter Kennedy Stadium at Westhill for practice to begin, Kobe Givens is already inside strapping knee braces onto each leg and tying his cleats tight.
With field hockey players still on the field putting away the goals after their practice, Givens begins lifting and flipping one of the giant tires on the turf.
It was a Friday afternoon and Givens should have been getting ready for a walkthrough with his team ahead of a Westhill home football game on Saturday.
Instead, he was in shorts and a sleeveless white T-shirt, gearing up for another practice sans helmets or pads and without hitting.
The 6-foot-2, 220 pound Givens had worked from the day last season ended to transform himself from an offensive lineman to a defensive end. He feels defensive end is where he can play in college.
Because of the cancellation of the high school football season this fall, Givens is a player transformed, but with nowhere to showcase himself.
Still, he keeps showing up every day to practice, even with his hopes of playing this year clinging to a proposed shortened season in March.
“I was hoping to have a good breakout year this year. This was supposed to be the culminating event of my high school career,” Givens said. “All I can do is go to combines and showcases coming up in the future. I did a combine last weekend just to get some stats in. It has been pretty frustrating not being able to get any film out. It just gives me more motivation to work harder.”
According to his coaches, Givens is never short on hard work.
He was named a captain his junior year, making him a rare two-year captain at Westhill.
Heading into the offseason and the pandemic/lockdown/reopening, Givens was the one holding the Vikings together when they were not around the coaches.
“You don’t see a lot of two-year captains, and he was a two-year captain without a doubt. He’s a natural leader. Knows how to do it on the field and knows how to do it off the field. The other kids respect him,” Westhill coach Joe DeVellis said. “That’s the big thing with the kids. If they don’t respect you, they’re not listening to you.
“You feel bad for kids like that who have stuck through a lot of losing years and now he was supposed to be the big guy. For that to get taken away from him, you really feel for him,” DeVellis said. “He’s the main guy who has helped change the culture here. Whatever bar we have set, he has made sure that not only he reaches it, but he has brought the other kids with him to get there too. He’s been in the weight room and he’s still in there working out. He’s still out here flipping tires by himself.”
That hard work is not just for himself. DeVellis knows Givens is going to leave the Westhill program better than he found it.
“When we weren’t cleared to work with the kids, he’s running the captains’ practices,” DeVellis said. “He’s doing all that because he wants all these other guys to get better. He knows he’s not going to be here forever. He wants to make sure that he can leave with something that he’s proud of. That’s really special for a high school kid. A lot of these guys are all about showing themselves off and saying ‘I want to be this’ or ‘I want to be that.’ He’s not that. He’s a ‘Let’s make everyone better guy.’”
Givens believes he can play in Division I or Division II at the next level, but getting seen as a defensive lineman is obviously a challenge when you can’t put on your helmet.
While Givens is ready to take part in any linemen challenges the team participates in, they do little to help him achieve his goal.
“The linemen challenges don’t really do enough,” Givens said. “There are some exercises that are helpful. I was able to get a summer workout tape out. A tape of me doing a bunch of workouts that can get out to colleges to get some exposure. It has been a lot different this fall. We have had to overcome a different type of adversity. We’re doing as much as we can within the guidelines. Not being able to hit takes out a big part of the game.”
Givens has had to work hard for everything he has earned at Westhill.
He showed up as an awkward freshman and slowly transformed himself on the field. Givens made the biggest leap this past offseason when he set his sights on playing defensive end after starting at offensive tackle last season.
“We used to call him Kobetron because he moved like Megatron,” DeVellis said. “He has the two big knee braces on and was all gawky and quirky. He really worked with our strength coach, who worked on his flexibility. He has set personal goals for himself and he didn’t let this situation get in his way.
“The team goals are a different story with the season not happening, but his personal goals, he has done everything he has needed to do. He got noticeably bigger from last year and more flexible and moving much better.”
DeVellis was pleased with how Givens made the push to play defense and feels terrible that he cannot show it on the field.
“He wanted to play defense last year, but we needed him at tackle more. This year, he has gotten his body right where he can go both ways now. He’s ready to do that. The fact that he’s not going to have any film on the defensive side is hard,” DeVellis said. “The stuff they have put together is great to give the kids some kind of experience but he’s not going to put on shoulder pads and a helmet. There’s no tire flip and no tug-of-war that’s going to help a college look at him and say ‘This guy can play D-end for us.’”
Givens never wanted to do a post-graduate year, but says he may consider it if it becomes his only option.
“I’ve always wanted to play football in college,” Givens said. “Not just play football, but be a leader and be good at it.”
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