ORONO — Vinson Givans realizes he is a fortunate young man.
He has been blessed with God-given athletic ability, the love and support of his family and the opportunity to play football on scholarship at the Division I level.
Givans is one of the key cogs on a defense that has been instrumental in the University of Maine’s 6-1 start. Coach Jack Cosgrove’s Black Bears (4-0 Colonial Athletic Association) hope to become eligible for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs when they visit Villanova for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game.
“Everybody in the locker room knows we have something special,” Givans said. “We just keep working harder and harder every day toward our goal.”
The 6-foot, 220-pound linebacker has anchored the middle of the defense. He ranks second on the team with 51 tackles and boasts two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Givans’ efforts have been magnified after fellow senior linebacker Donte Dennis suffered an offseason elbow injury that required surgery and prevented him from playing.
“He’s assumed a lot of responsibility as a result of the loss of Donte,” Cosgrove said. “We really needed Vinson to do the comprehensive things he’s been doing.”
Givans not only makes a lot of plays, he has demonstrated versatility as UMaine has worked around injuries and inexperience at linebacker.
“Athletically, he has the ability to play inside and outside, but he also has the mental ability to play all three of those positions,” said UMaine defensive coordinator Joe Rossi.
While Givans started out at the weak-side (‘Backer) spot, he has moved to the middle (Mike) position to enable the Bears to integrate Shawn Bodtmann and Sam Shipley with Arron Achey nursing a knee injury.
“He fills a great role for us because he knows the defense as well as anyone on our defense,” Rossi said. “He’s one of the smartest linebackers I’ve ever coached.”
Givans demonstrates plenty of intensity, but complements his play with a consistent, low-key demeanor off the field.
“He’s one of those guys that never gets too high, never gets too low,” Cosgrove said. “The excitement index goes up on Saturdays.”
Givans feels blessed to be in the position he’s in.
His prospects weren’t initially glowing after his senior season at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Cambridge, Mass. He wasn’t receiving a lot of attention from college recruiters.
“My senior year after football I didn’t have any scholarship offers,” said Givans, whose basketball coach, Lance Dottin — a cousin to UMaine defensive line coach Dennis Dottin-Carter, helped him produce a one-minute highlight video to send out to colleges.
“Maine was the first team to bring me up to school,” Givans said. “I had a great time, I loved the environment, so I jumped at the chance (for a scholarship).”
Shortly thereafter, Givans was subjected to the harsh realty of life when a classmate, Lucien Christalin, died after being shot accidentally by a friend.
“He was a good kid: Smart, funny; everybody liked him,” Givans said. “It was definitely a wakeup call.”
The incident brought home the message that he needed to broaden his horizons beyond Cambridge.
“That was a big eye-opener. It made me realize that to get where I wanted to go, I needed to expand my knowledge, experience new things, meet new people and better myself,” he said.
Givans appears to have done so at UMaine. He’s a starter on the top team in the CAA and is on track to graduate next May with a degree in child development and family relations.
He is appreciative for the efforts of his parents in helping to establish a good work ethic with strong moral character.
His mother, Teresa Sealey, has been an avid UMaine fan who has attended as many of Vinson’s games as possible.
Givans’ father, Vinson, is a native of England who never really warmed to football but has supported his son in his pursuits.
“I definitely credit most of (his success) to my upbringing and my childhood, my parents and my grandmother and the adults who influenced me,” the younger Givans said. “They definitely guided me on the right path and taught me the things that I need to do to be successful and help myself, help my community.”
Givans has been an important leader and role model for his teammates. Cosgrove called him, “a very influential kid in the locker room.” The fact he wears the No. 4, which is handed down by a predecessor, is a testament to those qualities.
“To be in the company of names like Aaron Dashiell, Stephen Cooper, Mark Masterson — people like that — is an honor,” Givans said.
Givans hopes to continue playing football after graduation. When that is done, he wants to work with troubled youth.
“I know so many people that had the abilities to go and do great things, but they didn’t make the best of their chances,” he said. “I want to help kids see the opportunity that they have and make the best of it.”