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Giving his all

Former MSU soccer standout Colin Givens takes shot at MLS

January 27, 2011
Then junior defenseman Colin Givens clears the ball away from the net preventing a goal against the Wolverines on Oct. 25, 2009 at DeMartin Stadium at Olde College Field. Givens, who was drafted by the Colorado Rapids, was a two-time All-Big Ten performer for the Spartans in three seasons. State News File Photo
Then junior defenseman Colin Givens clears the ball away from the net preventing a goal against the Wolverines on Oct. 25, 2009 at DeMartin Stadium at Olde College Field. Givens, who was drafted by the Colorado Rapids, was a two-time All-Big Ten performer for the Spartans in three seasons. State News File Photo —
Photo by State News file photo | and Josh Radtke The State News

Ian Givens was looking out for his two boys — Colin and Stewart — when he decided to apply for British citizenship.

The father decided dual citizenship was in the best interest of his sons as they started to show the potential of playing professional soccer. With direct Scottish lineage, a British passport would offer the brothers an option to work easily in Europe – potentially playing professional soccer.

The process of applying and obtaining the passports took about six months, but would play a beneficial role in the careers of the two boys.

For Colin — a senior defender on the MSU men’s soccer team in 2010 — his father’s decision soon might pay off. Colin was drafted by the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids on Jan. 12, and his ability to work — and play — overseas might help him secure a contract.

“If Colorado were to sign me to a contract, at the end of the year, they could sell me (to a European team) and make some money,” Colin said. “So that’s working in my benefit. Obviously you want to be worth something at the end of your contract.”

Paul Bravo, the Rapids’ technical director, said the team took note of the dual citizenship and knows teams overseas are interested in Colin and likely will play a role should Colin land a spot on the team.

Colin moved to Denver at the beginning of this week and has been working out with fellow rookies trying to prove his worth to the team. As he tries to secure a roster spot, Colin will use the skills he learned and developed throughout his first 21 years of life living with a family dedicated to soccer.

A European upbringing
On the East Coast of Scotland in the small town of Kirkcaldy, Ian grew up like most other European youth — playing soccer. He raised his children in much the same way.

He made it to the semi-professional Scottish Junior League before meeting his wife, Heather, an American from Sterling Heights, Mich. The eldest Givens immigrated to Michigan when he was 22 and settled with Heather, but continued to play soccer with the Detroit Sport Club 1924. He continued to play well after the birth of his sons, something they enjoyed to watch as they learned to play themselves.

The parents raised the two boys in Troy, Mich., a soccer-hot spot in early 1990s’ Michigan. He personally coached the two kids — Stewart until he was 17 and Colin until 15.

“I guess me having played soccer, I was able to show them the proper techniques right from the start, and then they just thrived on it,” Ian said. “They both had a passion for the game, and they still do to this day. I actually tried to get them into other sports, but they’re just not interested.”

With a large backyard, Ian decided to build a regulation size goal, allowing the boys to practice any time they wished.

The father only broke up one fight between the brothers as the siblings were close — and the only broken window was a result of a stray kick from the dad.

The brothers said their father’s love and passion for the game rubbed off on them.

“It sounds like he forced me to play soccer, but he just didn’t have to force me, I could just see how much fun he had playing the game,” Colin said. “I just knew it was not like any other sport. It’s rare to see a sport where you can go crazy for 90 minutes and tackle the hell out of one of your best friends, and then right after the game, you just leave it on the field.”

As Colin and Stewart grew up, soccer remained a constant in their lives.

“It was always playing in the backyard,” said Stewart, the eldest brother by two years. “If not outside, we always had a ball in the house and knocked it around, getting yelled at. It was always a part of our life.”

A college life
After a successful high school career, one he ended as the No. 2 ranked defender in his recruiting class, Colin decided to commit to Virginia.

“Obviously it’s an amazing school, program, beautiful campus and the scholarship was nice as well,” he said. “I couldn’t say no. It sounded too good to be true, and I figured if I didn’t go for it I might regret it the rest of my life.”

Following a successful soccer season, one in which he played in 13 games as a freshman, Colin came home to Michigan for the holiday break. After some thought, he determined the balance of soccer, academics and social life at Virginia wasn’t the right fit for him, especially for three and a half more years.

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The change was one his father understood as a necessary life move and supported his son’s decision to instead play in Scotland for the spring semester.

“It’s tough to try and tell your kids what to do when they’re 18, 19 years old,” Ian said. “Obviously you want them to do the right thing, but it just wasn’t the right fit for him down in Virginia. We supported him, told him, ‘Go over there, it’ll be an education for you also.’ I think it opened his eyes a little bit.”

While living with his grandparents and aunt and uncle in Scotland, he trained with Scottish Premier League team Dundee United. After the brief, three-week training stint with the Scottish club, the coach told him to finish his education and if he ever wanted to come back, the team would take a hard look at him.

As Colin was deciding on his future, Stewart enrolled at Oakland University, starting most of his career as a defender on the soccer team.

Back in Michigan, being near East Lansing, Colin decided to enroll at MSU — a decision MSU head coach Damon Rensing said was great for the Spartan soccer program.

“I was an assistant and involved in the recruiting, and we recruited Colin hard out of high school,” Rensing said. “So we knew him really well, so when he wanted to come back, we welcomed him with open arms. He’s a good player, we knew even a good kid, so we felt like it was a good fit.”

The class he joined went on to be the only class in MSU history to go to the NCAA Tournament all four years. His first year at MSU the Spartans won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. This year, the team finished one of the most successful runs in school history, before a disappointing Sweet 16 penalty-kick exit to North Carolina.

“I love Michigan State, it’s the best school. The guys on the team are awesome — just the family atmosphere I was looking for,” Colin said.

A Rapid surprise
With the aspiration to go pro lingering in his head since he was a youngster, Colin was excited to know his soccer playing days weren’t over when, about a week after the North Carolina loss in November 2010, agents began talking to him.

And when people would ask him where he wanted to end up, Colorado always was in his top three locations. Following the MLS Combine earlier this month, Givens left knowing several teams were interested, but Colorado wasn’t on the list.

“It was a huge shock when they picked me up in the second round, a good shock though. I’m definitely excited to be here,” he said. “It’s honestly just a dream come true to have this opportunity out in Colorado.”

Givens headed west earlier this week and since has spent his time getting to know veterans, coaches and front office staff as well as taking medical tests. Givens said his previous soccer training has helped him show off in practice, but he wasn’t prepared for the mile high environment.

“I’m a pretty fast kid, so it was good to show my speed on the first day,” Colin said. “But it’s tough getting used to the altitude, I did not think it would hit me that hard, it was an easy day honestly, but I couldn’t breath at the end of it.”

If Givens makes the team, his speed could be a major reason why. The First-Team All-Big Ten defender spent three seasons in front of senior goalie Avery Steinlage and helped make Steinlage one of the best goaltenders in MSU history.

Steinlage said Givens’ knowledge of the game and other skills will help in Colorado, but his speed will make him a valuable commodity to a professional soccer club.

“He’s really fast, probably the fastest kid on the team, and showed it in his game,” Steinlage said. “You can’t teach speed. It’s a special God-given talent, and he definitely has it and it can help him become a veteran in the league.”

The Rapids saw something in Givens that was worth a draft selection, but he knows a roster spot won’t come easy.

Bravo said the team has had its eye on Givens for several years. The coaching staff scouted the Big Ten the past two years and in every discussion, Colin came up in players of interest.

“He’s a great kid, fast, skilled and smart,” Bravo said. “He’s the type of player we’re looking for and there are plenty of opportunities here for him.”

With an expanded roster, a reserve squad and a 50-game schedule, Bravo said there’s a good chance Givens will make the club in some form.

Even with the club’s optimism he’ll make the cut, Givens knows there’s a chance he could be looking for another place of employment.

“You never know in this business, which is a tough pill to swallow, because they don’t care about your feelings at all or how hard you worked,” Colin said. “It comes down to the top 30 players in that month. So right now, no guarantees.”

What lies ahead
With about three semesters away from a degree in advertising, Givens said he eventually does plan on returning to MSU to graduate and work with the MSU soccer program, but hopes he can have at least five successful years in the MLS — and hopefully overseas.

Bravo said he hopes Givens will catch on and enjoy a lengthy career with the Rapids. But even if he misses the cut, Bravo said Colin will find a club in the U.S. or Europe and possesses the skills to play a long time at the professional level.

Ian believes both his sons have the skills and work ethic necessary to make it professionally and can see Colin making his way overseas to challenge himself in his lifelong passion.

While Colin attempts to catch on in the MLS, Stewart has a tryout in February with the Rochester Rhinos of the United Soccer League, a league below the MLS, and also will give professional soccer a chance.

“It didn’t really become a reality until the last couple of years that I could really pursue it,” Stewart said. “I wanted to finish my degree up, so I just graduated in December and now I’m really starting to go at it and put my full attention behind it.”

And if they both get their way, Colin and Stewart could be playing together on a team in the future, a dream the father will support until they’re satisfied.

“I’m real proud of both of them,” Ian said. “It’s their dream, I’m 100 percent behind them chasing their dreams while they can. They can take it as far as they want to.”


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