As he talks about it, Kenny Givens goes through a range of emotions.
Happiness. Relief. Anticipation.
Yet above all, Givens said he’s grateful.
Givens, a 6-foot-4 defensive lineman from Chicago, signed with Kansas State in February. But after a snag with his test scores, he didn’t arrive with the rest of the Wildcats’ 2019 signees; he’s the lone recruit in the 25-member class (including graduate transfers) who won’t be at K-State this fall. Givens said he’s already moved on, and focused on a future that still includes K-State.
Finally speaking publicly on the matter is one means of therapy.
“It’s a pleasure to talk and get to voice my word and how I feel on things,” Givens told The Mercury in a phone interview Monday night. “A lot of people didn’t know how I felt about this whole situation. So it just feels great right now. I’m over here smiling because I got to voice my opinion about how I felt about this whole thing.”
Givens was ready to become a Rocket.
After giving Toledo his commitment, he planned to honor it. Then Chris Klieman and his staff took over at K-State. Things changed immediately for Givens. Joe Klanderman, the Wildcats’ new safeties coach, contacted Givens “a week or two” before signing day in February. Klanderman reached out to Givens on Twitter.
“He was like, ‘Yo, we need to get you down on a visit here immediately. If you like this, we’ll make a place for you and we’re ready for you,’” Givens said. “I was like, ‘OK.’ I got there that very weekend and I was down there visiting.”
Givens admits he never had heard of “Manhattan, Kansas” before his visit. But he fell in love with the town, and the campus, almost instantly.
“Man, it took my breath away,” he said. “I was like, ‘This is where I want to be.’ The atmosphere, the people, the facilities, everything about it overtook Toledo. So I decommitted from Toledo and I jumped right on it with K-State.”
Though the Wildcats listed him as a defensive tackle on signing day, Givens said the staff told him he also could move to the outside in specific situations.
That’s on hold for now.
Givens found out in early June: His ACT score was flagged, seven months after he originally had taken the exam. The timing wasn’t ideal; Givens noted he was informed “right before I was set to go” to Manhattan.
“It was just like, ‘Wow, OK. So ...’” said Givens, pausing for five long seconds before continuing. “Yeah. That’s really what that was.”
Naturally, Givens was furious.
“My thought process was — excuse my language — I was pissed off,” he said.
His anger lingered “for a day or so,” sitting around and lamenting his situation. But then Givens said he turned his attention to correcting his mistake, vowing to do “whatever it takes” to eventually play for the Wildcats.
“I was just frustrated with myself because I didn’t take care of what I had to take care of in high school to (avoid) being in this predicament,” he said. “Everybody messes up, so I just looked at it, ‘This is God giving you a chance to redeem yourself.’ It may not be the straight-and-narrow path that I wanted, but this is God giving me a chance to redeem myself.”
Givens pointed out that it could have been worse: Some people might not have had the opportunity to play college football at all. He’s still going to do so. He’s just taking a circuitous path to Manhattan.
After the K-State staff learned Givens wouldn’t be in the fold this fall, it didn’t give up on him. Givens said they advised him to start in the junior college ranks. Preferably, at Butler Community College in El Dorado.
There’s a connection: Butler’s defensive line coach is Steve Braet. His son, Taylor Braet, is the Wildcats’ director of recruiting. Despite that link, Givens emphasized “it ultimately was my decision” to choose which junior college to attend.
“Taylor Braet, he told me, ‘My dad is a good coach. He’ll get you right. I promise you that. But I’m not forcing you to go anywhere. I’m not saying if you go anywhere else we won’t reoffer,’” Given said. “He was just saying that he felt like Butler was a great place. And he felt like it was good because I could stay in close contact with the guys in my signing class, so when I did come back, I wasn’t a stranger.”
After Givens tweeted Monday about playing at Butler while intending to enroll at K-State, one of his fellow 2019 signees offered his support.
“Yunno what it is brudda,” tweeted Jonathan Alexander, who also started his career at the junior college level before becoming a Wildcat.
Givens plans to attend at least one K-State this fall, though he said he’ll have to look at his schedule and figure out an exact date later.
In the meantime, he’s getting adjusted to life in a new state and a new town — one far smaller and less hectic than Chicago.
“It is different, but the people around me make it like home,” Givens said. “My teammates, I instantly clicked with them. There was none of that, ‘Oh, you’re not welcome here.’ No. Everybody on the team — the coaches, the student helpers, trainers — made me feel welcome coming in. It was high spirits and high hopes when I came in. They already knew I was here on business, so they welcomed me with open arms and I appreciate that.”
If everything goes as planned, Givens said he’ll enroll at K-State in January 2021. What he doesn’t know is how many years he’ll have to play for the Wildcats.
It might be two. It might be three. It comes down to whether Butler thinks he can play immediately.
“Everyone always thinks, ‘Oh, I’m ready,’” he said. “But in all actuality, you’re usually not.”
It presents both an internal dilemma and a delicate balancing act.
On one hand, if he plays this fall, it means Braet and the Butler coaching staff already has faith in his ability — but means one less season to take the field for the Wildcats. On the other, if he redshirts this season, it gives him three years to make his mark at K-State — but proves he wasn’t ready, either physically or mentally, to work his way into Butler’s rotation.
He’s prepared for either outcome.
“When I got here, I looked at it as, ‘Maybe God put me here because He felt like I wasn’t ready for the Division I level at the moment,” Givens said. “He needed me to be coached by Coach Braet, because I’m a firm believer — I don’t what to get all spiritual here, but ... I believe everything happens for a reason. (And) one opinion that I’m pretty sure a lot of people share is that Coach Braet is an excellent coach.”
Evaluating himself, Givens said he views his strengths as his speed and agility against offensive lineman. Those attributes came in handy during his time at Hubbard High, earning him All-Public League honors from the Chicago Sun-Times in each of his final two high school seasons.But Givens is well aware that won’t be enough against the players he’ll face at Butler, or potentially, at K-State.
He said he knows he has to get stronger.
“I can move a lineman, but it would be easier if I’m at my full max potential for strength,” Given said. “So I’ll be hitting the weight room a little more and really just learning the technique of my position. In high school, I was coached to play that position, but I wasn’t coached at a college level. Every level that you move up, the game gets faster. I understand that.”
To attain the added strength he covets, Givens said he’ll break himself down and build back up. He weighs 280 pounds right now. He wants to drop down to 270, then bulk back up to “285 pounds, straight muscle.”
Most importantly, he wants to do it without sacrificing his
“I feel pretty good with this weight, because I can still move like I (did) when I was smaller,” he said. “So that’s how I like to look at it: I can still move.”
He hopes to move, in a literal sense, in a year and a half. North to Manhattan. For Givens, January 2021 can’t come quickly enough.
Until then, he said he had a message for the K-State fan base, expressing his appreciation for those who “still haven’t given up” on him.
“Just hold on and don’t forget about me. I’m coming back,” he said. “I’m on my way back. It’s just a little dip in the road and I’m climbing back up right now. I’ll be there soon and be ready to put on a show.”