Gold Rush Feature: Big-Play Threat
Dec. 20, 2011
This article was originally published in the December 2011 edition of Gold Rush.
By Sam Walker
Anybody who knows anything about Wake Forest football this season knows the name Chris Givens. He's a playmaker. He is also becoming a leader and considers himself one on a team that is vastly improved from a season ago.
Adversity is not new to Givens. At age 10, Givens moved with his mother and three younger brothers to Wylie, Texas, where, ready or not, he became the man of the house. There were extra responsibilities his mother expected of him, and that's just the way it was.
"We were originally from Mississippi, and once we moved, that's when the dad role really changed for me," Givens said. "It was just my mom (Nicole Givens), me and my brothers. I had to be a role model for my brothers and make sure they had their homework done and were ready for school. That's just what mom expected of me, so I think it helped prepare me for today.
"Really she told me to do what I had to do and put the responsibility on me to do what I needed to do to be ready every day. That is a lot of pressure on a 10-year-old, but they were my little brothers, and I knew the position we were in. I loved my little brothers (Nick, Dylan and Brandon) and accepted the responsibility in taking care of them."
Football and track were sports at which Givens excelled, and that naturally caught the eye of college football recruiters. He won the District 9-5A 100-meter Texas High School title in 2007, so there was no doubt about his speed. But unfortunately, serious injuries became part of Givens' life along with more doses of adversity.
Givens twice tore the ACL (in each knee) in high school, an all too common but debilitating injury that takes nothing but time from which to recover. Perhaps that makes what he has been able to do at Wake Forest as a collegiate player all the more impressive. But it wasn't just that Givens had to prove his knees were durable enough and that he had regained the speed and elusiveness that made him one of the fastest players in the state of Texas. He had to prove to his head coach that he was committed not just to being good, but being great. In the words of Jim Grobe, the Deacons' head coach, it's called being an everyday guy.
"I think intensity is always a problem with young kids," said Grobe. "It's not just a Chris Givens problem, but it's the reason we rely more heavily on our juniors and seniors for the every day kind of stuff. Young guys, especially very talented young guys, take their ability for granted sometimes, so you aren't seeing consistent play. But when they get a little older, their priorities change and they take the focus off themselves and put the focus on the team and start adopting some of the values that coaches think are important, and that's becoming a guy who can be depended on day in and day out."
The knee injuries affected his college recruitment experience. There were somewhere between 20 and 30 colleges looking at him at one time or another, according to Givens, but it was an off and on, hot and cold kind of experience because of the injuries. Wake stayed the course, stood by Givens as he healed and rehabilitated his knees, but there was an element of chance involved, Grobe conceded.
"Yeah, you do (take a chance), but speed is something we're always looking for at Wake Forest, and we knew Chris could really run," he said. "We were taking a little bit of a gamble, but there was a gamble that paid off for us a few years back in Kevin Marion. Kevin was a kid in Florida who was predicted to be a possible 100-meter champion and then blew out his knee and didn't get a chance to compete in track his senior year. We brought him in, and he ended up playing great for us, so we've gotten to the point now where the ACL repairs are so successful, and for us, if you've been hurt in high school, we don't mind bringing you in for that redshirt year.
"Kids with an ACL typically don't recover the next year. It's typically that extra year before they're going full speed again, so in Chris' case to be able to go through that redshirt freshman year and then start playing as a redshirt freshman, he was a whole year removed from that surgery and good to go."
Givens did work his way back to health, and Wake Forest was ready for a player like him to step in and be a playmaker.
"Chris had always been very, very talented but had been streaky for two years," Grobe said. "His freshman and sophomore years, he made some fantastic plays, but they didn't come in bunches, and so he was inconsistent. We felt in Chris if he could become an every day kind of guy, we had somebody who could be pretty special, and that's what he has become."
Despite a lack of consistency, Givens led the nation's freshmen in touchdown receptions with eight, and led the team last season as a sophomore with 514 receiving yards and 1,022 all-purpose yards. But Grobe always felt there was more to him than he had shown.
This season, Givens has been a difference maker game after game. He has posted the best eight-game start in school history with 926 receiving yards, which already ranked him sixth all-time for most receiving yards in a season. Through eight games, Givens had six 100-plus yard receiving games. The school record is eight, recorded by Wayne Baumgardner in 1979. Givens has at least one catch in 25 consecutive games (with two games remaining in the 2011 regular season).
Certainly, Givens is fast becoming the player Grobe envisioned and proving himself among the league's and nation's elite, ranking seventh in the NCAA with 116.0 yards per game. He caught the game-tying touchdown against Duke with the extra point lifting the Deacons to their fifth victory of the season. And he was also closing in on Ricky Proehl's single-season receiving mark of 1,016 yards heading into the final games.
"It was all part of God's plan, and he was preparing me for something big," Givens said. "So I stayed patient, stayed humble and kept working. Coach Grobe and Coach (Lonnie) Galloway sat me down this past spring and just told me what they expected out of me and that was really just to grow up and mature. They talked with me about realizing the opportunity that I had and to take advantage of the gifts God gave to me. They wanted me to work on my catching, getting stronger, getting tougher and being a better teammate and leader. In the past. we haven't had that leadership, and I was in position to be a leader."
Givens will allow football to take him as far as it can, but he is planning a future in counseling. As a psychology major, he wants to be part of a mentoring program for young people who need a male role in their life, a role for him that isn't all that unfamiliar.
"I really just wanted to learn about psychology from watching TV shows and by talking to other people who were taking it (at Wake Forest)," he said. "I was attracted to it. I want to be a mentor to young kids growing up in poverty-stricken areas. I want to be someone they can talk to and be a role model for kids growing up without one. That's just because I didn't have one growing up without a father in my life. There was just my mom, and it would have been nice to have someone else to talk to, just to stay on me with school and football. Mom did a great job of that, but I know how hard it was for her with my younger brothers and stuff. So, I know when I get an opportunity to use football as a tool to reach out and help kids and people in general, I want to do that."