Hunter Bivin honors late father

Hunter Bivin's selection as an Under Armour All-American may have never happened had it not been for a devastating loss.

By all accounts, it was the sudden loss of his father, Randy, to a heart attack in 2010 that helped turn a talented football player into one of the top offensive tackle prospects in the 2013 class.

"I don't want to say he needed that as motivation but it definitely helped him in the long run," Bivin's older brother, Harris, said. "My dad always told him that he had the potential to be really, really good if he just worked towards it. After that happened, he just kind of remembered that."

Randy was certainly on the family's mind Wednesday at Apollo High where Bivin accepted his jersey during the American Family Insurance Selection Tour for the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game.

Bivin's mother, Sherry, said it felt like Randy was still with the family. If so, Bivin is a different prospect than when Randy was alive. Bivin was once gangly and perhaps lacked some aggressiveness but that's no longer the case.

Bivin, who committed to Notre Dame in March, is the nation's No. 95 prospect and the eighth-best offensive tackle. Much of that is based on his 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame but he knows he'll need to be bigger and stronger to be successful in college.

Conditioning will be key and that's why he's been driven to be in tip-top shape. It's shown on the field, considering he never comes off of it. In addition to offensive tackle, Bivin plays defensive tackle and all phases of special teams.

"I've really worked hard in the weight room," said Bivin, who benches 350 pounds and squats 505. "That's been the main thing."

It's been a long road full of hard work for Bivin. When he hit a growth spurt in middle school, he was suddenly 6-foot-5 but his coordination didn't measure up to his frame and he wasn't nearly strong enough for the O-line.

"He was good but he wasn't anywhere close to where he is now," said Harris. "I just kept telling him, 'Hunter, you get in the weight room and you're going to be big time.' I told all my friends he was going to be ten times better than I was if he got some weight on him."

That was a strong claim considering Harris had plenty of scholarship offers and is currently a junior offensive lineman at Murray State. But it's held true, evidenced by Bivin's selection to the UA Game and his pledge to his childhood favorite team.

"It was mainly just me," Bivin said of rooting for the Fighting Irish. "I think I kind of rubbed off on everybody else."

Eventually his father followed suit. The emotions will likely be overwhelming when Bivin finally suits up for the gold and blue.

"I really don't know what it's going to be like," he said. "I'm sure it's going to be a once in a lifetime thing and I'm going to remember it for the rest of my life."

He easily recalls the day he came back from track practice in June 2010 and was told about his father's passing. But he doesn't mind talking about it despite the pain.

"I enjoy talking about him," Bivin said. "It brings back a lot of good memories and a lot of motivation. I don't hesitate to talk about him one bit. He was a great guy. He was one of my best friends. I could go to him for anything."

Likewise, there was no hesitation when it was time for Bivin to rejoin his team for fall practice shortly after his father's death.

"I knew he'd want me with my teammates and wouldn't want me to sit back and feel sorry for myself and not play," Bivin said. "I know I was doing him justice. I play for him everyday and I live for him everyday. He's my motivation that gets me through everyday because I know he made me the man I am today. It's motivation, not a drawback."

Randy's death has created a stronger bond within the family. Despite heading to college, Harris is always available to guide his younger brother -- especially through the recruiting process -- and Sherry and her son grew even closer as the remaining members of the household.

"Everything is coming together just like Randy would have wanted it to be," Sherry said. "Hunter has the strength that Randy would have wanted, more than Randy would have ever thought."

After receiving his jersey, Bivin will continue to piece together his uniform for January's contest. Soon, he'll get his cleats, but they'll be slightly different from his teammates. They'll have his father's name written on them, just like the cleats he's worn since his sophomore season and the future pair he will lace up at South Bend.

"He was a big Notre Dame fan with me," Bivin said. "I think he's watching down on me and proud of me."