Bruce Bivens wasn’t really thinking about playing football as a freshman at Benjamin O. Davis High School just North of downtown Houston.
Like most males in Texas, Bivens played football growing up and was good at the sport. But in his mind, Bevins was better at basketball.
“I was explosive and I could dunk,” Bivens said. “So I didn’t really want to play football. I was going to be a great basketball player.”
Luckily, an assistant football coach wound up talking Bivens into giving football a try. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Bivens went on to start three seasons for a fledgling Davis High football program and earned first-team all-state Class 6-A honors from the Texas Associated Press Sports Editors as a senior. The skills that led to that honor eventually attracted East Carolina to the 5-foot-11, 220-pound linebacker, who became the 21st player to make a verbal commitment to the Pirates’ recruiting Class of 2017.
Fresno State originally claimed Bivens’ pledge back in July. But after offering a scholarship to Bivens in November, ECU came on strong to claim his commitment on December 15. The decision to flip from the Bulldogs to the Pirates came soon after Bivens made an official visit to Greenville on Dec. 9.
“I just loved coach Mo,” Bivens said, referring to ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery. “I really like what he’s doing with the program.
“When I went on my official visit I just loved the campus atmosphere. Everyone was so friendly. I got a chance to speak to Zay Jones when I was there and he told me East Carolina was like a family. That sounded like something I want to be part of.”
Jones, of course, is ECU’s record-setting wide receiver who also happens to hail from Texas and the state capital area of Austin.
But unlike Jones, who has been involved with football most of his life thanks to his father, former Pirate All-American linebacker Robert Jones, Bivens played football as a youngster at the urging of his father, but wasn’t really into the sport as much.
Davis High, which had only opened in 2012, didn’t even have a varsity football team when Bivens arrived as a freshman the following year. So once convinced to give the gridiron a shot, Bivens played for the Falcons’ junior varsity as a ninth grader. The following season he was a key performer for the first varsity team in Davis High history, which remarkably won the district title, finished with a 7-5 record and advanced to the state 6-A playoffs.
“I had been hesitant to play football,” Bivens said. “But that spring after my sophomore year I started hearing from some colleges. I think that’s when football started becoming my focus.”
The Falcons haven’t been as successful in the last two seasons, but Bivens continued to build his reputation in recruiting circles. He made 93 tackles, seven sacks and forced five fumbles as a junior to earn first-team all area and team outstanding linebacker honors. As a senior in 2016, Bivens picked up first-team All-State 6-A honors from the Texas Associated Press Sports Editors by collecting 87 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions.
The Houston Chronicle newspaper ranked Bivens No. 51 in its list of the state’s top 100 college prospects.
Bivens began fielding scholarship offers from a selection of Football Championship Subdivision programs such as Stephen F. Austin and Houston Baptist. But it was Fresno State that became the first Football Bowl Subdivision program to extend an offer last May between his junior and senior seasons. Bivens made a verbal commitment to play for the Bulldogs on July 1, saying at the time “I committed to Fresno State because, as of right now, that’s the best fit for me.”
With six linebackers on its depth chart scheduled to complete their eligibility by the 2018 season, securing replacements became one priority in the ’17 recruiting class.
“I fit into any defensive scheme,” Bivens said. “I can play inside or out. I think my versatility was something [ECU] liked, and it was appealing to me that they needed help [at linebacker].”
Bivens said he’ll bring both intensity and big-play ability to the ECU linebacker corps.
“I bring a lot of fire to the team,” he said. “I play with a lot of excitement. I play fast and physical.
“A good example of how I play happened against Aldine. They run a Wing-T offense, and always pull two or three people into the hole at the same time. But this time I blew it up, tackled the guy in the backfield for a loss, got up and celebrated.”
Bivens is the third linebacker to commit to ECU’s recruiting class. Junior college transfer Cannon Gibbs and Charlotte freshman Ben Norris will enroll this month and compete for playing time in spring practice, while Bivens is scheduled to arrive in Greenville during the summer.