TAMPA — In the days leading up to South Florida’s kickoff luncheon in mid-August, coach Charlie Strong asked Kirk Livingstone if he could give the invocation.
Livingstone did not jump at the opportunity. Rather, he debated whether to do it and thought about asking roommate and fellow defensive lineman, Greg Reaves, if he wanted to do it. Ultimately, Livingstone accepted the responsibility and delivered a flawless invocation in front of several hundred USF supporters, including local dignitaries and business leaders.
“It’s been a challenge for me ever since I was young because of how I stutter,” said Livingstone, of getting in front of an audience. “I thought about passing it along to Greg, but I thought to myself that it would be an opportunity for me to speak.”
Thanks to such opportunities, whether it is the invocation or responsibilities that go with being a member of USF’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Livingstone has become much more comfortable speaking in front of people.
His biggest test may come December 10 in Manhattan when the winner of the 2019 William V. Campbell Trophy is announced. Earlier this month the National Football Foundation (NFF) announced that Livingstone, who received his undergraduate degree in health services in May and is studying to become a physician’s assistant, is one of 185 semifinalists for the coveted trophy, which was first awarded in 1990.
Of the semifinalists, chosen from more than 750 four-year institutions across all levels of college football, only six are from Florida schools. The NFF will announce 12-14 finalists October 30.
According to the NFF, the trophy is awarded to the “absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation for his combined academic success, football performance and exemplary leadership.”
The hardware is named after the late Bill Campbell, a linebacker and offensive lineman on Columbia’s 1961 Ivy League championship team, the only league title the Lions have ever won. Campbell, who coached his alma mater from 1974 to 1979, was an executive at Apple Computers and CEO of financial software firm Intuit.
“That is something I am extremely proud of,” said Livingstone of being a semifinalist. “It is nice to see the hard work pay off whether it has been academics, helping people out in the community, or whether it’s been on the field. Hopefully, I can keep on going (and be a finalist).”
Livingstone’s increasing level of comfort in speaking up has carried to the gridiron, which is something that could not be said a couple of years ago. In fact Strong, who is in his third season at USF, wasn’t sure if he would ever hear a peep out of the defensive end. That has changed.
“He never said anything and you had to make him talk,” Strong said earlier this season. “Now, he is beginning to talk a little and I wondered if he would talk at all. There has been a big change with his whole work ethic and how he goes about everything.”
That’s not to say Livingstone is now quick to get in a teammate’s face. Rather, if he detects that something is amiss, he will attempt to find out what’s wrong and lend a hand.
“The biggest thing for me, I guess the best way to say it, is not be fake with it,” said the Fort Lauderdale native. “Be truthful and not be afraid to pull the younger guys aside. If I see something, I try to help them out and ask them what they feel they need to work on.”
Wanting to help teammates is something that is very important to Livingstone. Early in his USF career, and with his shy nature, he wasn’t one to ask questions.
“Asking for help was one thing I was afraid of when I first got here,” he said. “With some of the younger guys, I push them to not be afraid to ask for help. When you do not know a play or whether you are struggling in school, there are people that are here for you.”
Struggling in school is something Livingstone has not experienced, at least in terms of acquiring good grades. Sure, he has experienced ups and downs just like any other student, but he completed his undergrad with a sterling 3.6 GPA and is shoehorning five courses, including a lab, this semester while enduring the daily grind on the gridiron.
As part of his experience as a student-athlete at USF, Livingstone partook of the Selmon Mentoring Institute. Named after former USF athletic administrator and Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ great Lee Roy Selmon, the institute helps prepare student-athletes for their post-college careers, whatever field it may be.
While Livingstone would like to pursue a professional football career, the work he has done off the field has been most valuable in steering him toward his goal of being a physician’s assistant. Included in his educational experience was working with a mentor, former USF PA Kathleen Flack, which was arranged through the mentoring institute.
“(The mentoring institute) helped me a lot in that it gave me somebody to talk to and somebody who could guide me,” said the four-time American Athletic Conference All-Academic Team member. “(Flack) provided me with insight, what it takes to become a PA, the things I need to do and how to go about my work.”
Livingstone missed the Bulls’ spring game in April, and for a very good reason. That weekend he was in Orlando for the NCAA Student Athlete Leadership Forum. As a member of SAAC, which provides student-athletes a forum to address just about anything (rules, policies, etc.) impacting their lives, Livingstone was in yet another setting that allowed him to grow his interpersonal skills.
“It was a good opportunity to meet a lot of people and learn about their leadership techniques and things like that,” he said. “The biggest thing was kind of stepping outside my comfort zone. There are times when I catch myself not wanting to talk because I just don’t want to do it. But as a (SAAC) member I had to step outside of that comfort zone.”
Speaking of comfort zone, Livingstone is certainly right at home with his roomie Reaves.
“I am extremely close to him,” he said. “We do everything together whether it is going out to eat, going to the movies, lifting weights or watching (game) film. Everything he does, I am right there, too.”
That’s pretty much how Reaves sees it.
“He’s my roomate, my brother and we do everything together,” he said. “Shoot, we often think alike. I get the same energy and the same joy watching him make plays as when I make a play.”
Both have been making plenty of plays for the Bulls. Heading into Saturday’s game at the Naval Academy, Livingstone has seven tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. His 10 tackles for loss tied for the team lead a year ago and he was second with four sacks.
Whether it is taking down a ball carrier, diligently going about his work of becoming a physician’s assistant or growing more comfortable in front an audience, Livingstone has set many fine examples as a student-athlete at USF.