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Cousins & Rathje Named Big Ten Medal of Honor Recipients

Kirk Cousins, a four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, led MSU to a 22-5 record over his final two seasons.

June 6, 2012

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins and outside hitter/middle blocker Jenilee Rathje have been named 2011-12 Big Ten Medal of Honor recipients. One of the most prestigious conference awards in college athletics, the Big Ten Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had "attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work."

The Big Ten Medal of Honor was the first award in intercollegiate athletics to demonstrate support for the educational emphasis placed on athletics. It was acclaimed throughout the nation, and in particular by the NCAA "as one of the significant gestures yet made in college sports." The Big Ten Medal of Honor was expanded in 1982 to include one female student-athlete from each institution.

The 12 institutions of the Big Ten Conference feature nearly 10,000 student-athletes, more than any other conference, and only 24 of those individuals will be recognized this year with the Big Ten Medal of Honor. Over the past 97 years, less than 1,300 student-athletes have earned this distinction. In 2014, the conference will celebrate the 100th anniversary of this prestigious award.

A panel of administrators and coaches selected MSU's Big Ten Medal of Honor winners.

Cousins, who ranks as the winningest quarterback in school history, compiled a 27-12 record (.692) in 39 career starts, including a 22-5 mark over his final two seasons. Cousins became only the second three-time captain in MSU history (Robert McCurry, 1946-48) and the first Spartan starting quarterback to win three-straight games over Michigan. He ranks first in MSU history in pass completions (723), passing yards (9,131), touchdown passes (66), passing efficiency (146.1), 200-yard passing games (26) and total offense (9,004 yards). Cousins also is listed among MSU's all-time leaders in pass attempts (second with 1,128), completion percentage (second at .641; 723 of 1,128) and passing yards per game (third at 202.9). In addition, he ranks among the Big Ten's all-time Top 10 in completion percentage (tied for sixth), passing efficiency (seventh), passing yards (10th) and TD passes (tied for 10th).

In 2011, he was named one of three finalists for the Chicago Tribune Silver Football (Big Ten MVP) after ranking among the Big Ten leaders in TD passes (tied for second with MSU single-season record 25), passing yards (second at 236.9 yards per game), passing efficiency (third with a 145.1 rating) and total offense (fifth at 234.1 ypg.). A second-team All-Big Ten selection by the league's head coaches, Cousins completed 267-of-419 throws (.637) for 3,316 yards, 25 TDs and 10 interceptions. He had a school-record tying 11 200-yard passing games in 2011, including the last six games in a row.

A four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, Cousins graduated in December 2011 with a degree in kinesiology. He was presented the 2011 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, given annually to the most outstanding senior student-athlete in the NCAA Division I FBS. In addition, Cousins was named to the National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete Class and became one of 16 finalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy.

In January, he joined NCAA President Dr. Mark Emmert as a panelist for an education session titled "Students First: Giving Student-Athletes the College Experience They Deserve" at the NCAA Convention in Indianapolis, Ind. Last July, Cousins was selected to speak on behalf of all student-athletes attending the 2011 Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon. His speech on "privilege and responsibility" has more than 318,500 views on YouTube.

"Kirk Cousins is certainly deserving of being selected as a Big Ten Medal of Honor winner," Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio said. "He represents the ideal scholar-athlete. Throughout his career, Kirk pursued excellence in the classroom and on the playing field. He was a remarkable leader who became a great ambassador, not only for our university and this conference, but all of college football. He's a winner in all aspects of his life."

"I'm extremely grateful for all of the opportunities I had as a student-athlete at Michigan State," Cousins said. "I was fortunate enough to grow and mature in an environment that encouraged me to pursue excellence on the playing field and in the classroom. I played for a program that competed for and won championships, and at the same time, I was provided all of the necessary resources to achieve my academic goals. It's truly an honor and a blessing to be selected as one of Michigan State's Big Ten Medal of Honor recipients."

Jenilee Rathje, a two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, also earned Academic All-America honors as a senior.

Rathje finished her Spartan volleyball career as one of the most decorated student-athletes in the program's history. Not only did she excel on the court as the program's 11th All-American, but she earned Academic All-America honors, graduated with a master's degree and was heavily involved in the Greater Lansing community.

For her career, the Mt. Pleasant, Mich., native, finished first in Michigan State history in sets played (496) and matches played (142), seventh in block assists (333) and eighth in kills (1,504). In addition to her third-team AVCA All-America honors this past season, Rathje is just the seventh Spartan to earn back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten recognition.

A two-time team captain, Rathje led MSU to a 22-12 record and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009, advancing to the second round. The senior outside hitter paced the team in kills this season with 505 (4.17 per set), which ranked third in the Big Ten and top-25 in the nation. Her kill total was a career high and is the 10th-most in a MSU single-season. She also finished the season third on the team in digs with 257 (2.12 a set) and fifth in blocks with 61 (0.50 a set). She was also picked to the AVCA All-Mideast Region team, becoming the first Spartan since 2007 to be named to the 14-member team.

Rathje was just the third MSU volleyball student-athlete to be named a CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-America this past year, being named to the second team. In addition, she was MSU's Big Ten Sportsmanship award winner and an Academic All-Big Ten selection.

Rathje, who received her bachelor's degree in marketing in December 2010, graduated with her master's degree in kinesiology in May.

"Jenilee is a truly exceptional student-athlete," volleyball head coach Cathy George said. "In five years, she completed both her undergraduate and graduate degrees. As a fifth-year senior, Jenilee achieved All-America honors on the court and in the classroom. It's only fitting that she concludes her outstanding career by being named winner of the Big Ten Medal of Honor."

"I was incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to attend and compete at Michigan State University," Rathje said. "I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as a Spartan, both in the classroom and on the court. I'm humbled and honored that my efforts in both arenas were recognized by the Big Ten with this prestigious award."

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