Kirk Cousins: Leading His Way into History
Oct. 17, 2011
By Brittany McCormick, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
He's the only Spartan starting quarterback to defeat Michigan three straight times. He's ranked among the nation's top draft-eligible quarterbacks by numerous media outlets. And he's on track to become the winningest starting quarterback in school history.
Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins even ranks first in MSU history and third in the Big Ten record book with a 65 percent pass completion rate.
Pretty amazing stats for someone who almost lost full range of motion in his shoulders.
"When I was 18 months old, I was burned really severely," explained Cousins following a recent practice. "I accidentally poured a boiling pot of water all over myself. There were a lot of injuries and I was in the hospital for two weeks. One of the things the doctor said was that you may never get full range of motion in your shoulders. To be out here, playing football and throwing the football, it's kind of a neat thing to be able to have overcome that."
The injury could have ended Cousins' career as an athlete before he had even been able to walk. Fortunately, the Holland, Mich., native was able to fully heal from his early childhood injury and has progressed into one of the most memorable quarterbacks in Michigan State football history. But, overcoming obstacles have been a theme throughout Cousins' career.
"I've separated my shoulder. I sprained both of my ankles. I have been in position battles," Cousins said. "I started out fourth string and fifth string on the scout team. I didn't get to travel my freshman year. We went 6-7 in 2009. We were 1-3 at the start of my sophomore season. That's not the ideal way to start off your career as a starting quarterback when you are 1-3. We have been through the ups and the downs, but that is part of playing quarterback."
It's not surprising though that Cousins has been able to overcome everything that has been thrown at him the past five years. And he has not just gotten over those obstacles - he has used them to put a large dent in the history of Spartan football. His name can be seen all over the record book in numerous categories including pass yards (second with 7,132 yards) and touchdown passes (second with 49). Cousins is even one win away from breaking Jeff Smoker's 21 victories for the most by a Spartan quarterback in school history.
Something else that's not surprising about Cousins? None of these accolades seem to matter much to him. It's the impact he has on his teammates that he cares more about.
Cousins said, "I look forward to the opportunity to make a guy's career here better because I was able to be a part of his life. I always want to be a positive difference in people's lives and a positive effect in people's lives, rather than not have an impact at all."
Those words exemplify just one of the many reasons why it's evident that Cousins was chosen as a three-year captain of the Michigan State football team. Cousins is in the record book for this as well, for he's only the second three-time captain in MSU history after Robert McCurry (1946-48).
"It was humbling and an honor," commented Cousins. "I was thankful to my teammates for the opportunity they gave me. I wanted to make sure I led at a high level all season and tried to do that. It's a great opportunity to try and make a difference and be a leader, not only on this football team, but on this campus. I try to impact people in the right way, for the right things."
The 6-3, 205-pound quarterback was recruited by Dantonio only a month before signing day in 2007. Cousins had only received two offers prior to talking to Dantonio and both were from the Mid-American Conference. Once Michigan State had offered him a scholarship, Cousins knew he was bound to wear the Green and White.
His career would wait a season to begin since he red-shirted his first season on campus. Like a true and determined athlete, Cousins recognized that sitting out his first season was an opportunity for him to get better and to learn from the starting quarterback at the time, Brian Hoyer.
"I knew I wasn't good enough yet," explained Cousins. "I wasn't okay with sitting on the bench for five years. I wanted to make sure that I was going to be good enough to play someday. What kept me motivated was the fact that I wasn't there yet and I had a lot of work to do. I wanted to put the work in so that I would be able to play someday."
Cousins' hard work had paid off in time for his red-shirt freshman season. The quarterback saw action in five games and went 32-for-43 for 310 yards, including two touchdowns. Entering into his sophomore season, the newly-appointed captain was also named the starting quarterback before the first game.
"When I started in my first game, it was a dream come true," remembered Cousins. "I knew there was still a lot of work to be done. And I think that is kind of the mentality whenever you accomplish something, you're always looking at the next thing to accomplish. It was a special accomplishment and a day I will always remember."
Cousins also had a career-high performance in the 2009 season, when he threw for 353 passing yards against Western Michigan. What he also remembers about that season is the Spartans' record of 6-7. And it's a memory that has taught him a lot.
"I think the important thing about losing is to nail and press on," he said. "You have to learn from your mistakes but not dwell on them. It's important to make sure that you're constantly looking to improve but also focusing on the positives. Stay positive. I think especially as a leader, it is important to stay positive."
His positivity was a factor in the success of the Spartans moving into 2010. Not only did the team go undefeated at home, but they won a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990.
"There was a lot more confidence going into 2010 because I had been there before," explained Cousins. "We didn't have as good of a season in 2009, going 6-7, but we learned a lot and there was no substitute for that experience. I think that showed in 2010 when we won 11 games and won the Big Ten title. It was a special season from start to finish. It was a tremendous way to end the year at Penn State with a Big Ten title."
Following the incredibly successful 2010 season, Cousins' senior year started off as another memorable one - even before preseason practice began.
Cousins was asked to give a speech on behalf of all football student-athletes at the 2011 Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago. Known for his innate speaking abilities, Cousins even exceeded expectations and delivered a profound speech that was followed by a standing ovation. The video of his speech went viral almost instantly and has been viewed more than 130,000 times on YouTube.
"I was surprised," said Cousins. "I was surprised by the reaction. I wanted to do as well as I possibly could because of the audience that was there at the luncheon. I did not think it would get the response that it did. The standing ovation caught me off guard a little bit. It was exciting and it's been great to see the positive responses come through."
The main theme of Cousins' speech was "privilege" - how much of a privilege it was to play football in the Big Ten, compete in places such as Spartan Stadium and Happy Valley, to be covered by the media and have games televised, and to be a part of the Michigan State football family. And Cousins knows that this privilege was not just handed to him. He had to work for it.
"The biggest word that comes to mind when I think of Michigan State football is that it is a challenge," said Cousins. "It's been a real challenge to play football here. There have been a lot of tests and trials and difficulties. To be able to make it five years and not quit and play at a high level is a great accomplishment and I'm very thankful for my teammates and the effort they have given."
Hard work is something Cousins is used to and has to rely on to get through balancing class, meetings, lifting and practices during the season, but he has seemed to find the perfect solution to all the demands of being a student-athlete. The three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection will graduate in December with an undergraduate degree in kinesiology. He also makes sure he has time to practice his faith and to get involved in the community. Cousins participates in the Athletes in Action sports ministry and is a part of the Spartan Buddies program, where he volunteers in the pediatric ward at Sparrow hospital.
"My faith is the number one thing in my life. I think that is ultimately why I play the game of football - I see it as a platform to make a difference in people's lives," said Cousins.
Looking back on Cousins' Big Ten Luncheon speech, there is a quote that stands out that embodies the person and type of player he is.
"The truth is . . . privilege should never lead to entitlement. I've been raised and taught to believe that privilege should lead to responsibility; in fact, to greater responsibility. "
Cousins has not only accepted this responsibility but has proven himself to more than just a quarterback. He is a leader on the football field, in the MSU community and overall, is a young man that has his dreams set high. Even though Cousins will be graduating this December, memories of his integrity, heart and determination will forever live on in both the MSU football program and with Spartan fans.
"I want to continue to lead at a high level and to be able to impact people, whether it's teammates, managers or students I meet in class," said Cousins. "I want to be able to make a difference in people's lives on this campus before I leave in December. I want to try to make as much of a difference that I can in a positive way. And, hopefully we win a lot of football games in the process."
GETTING TO KNOW Kirk Cousins
Song played most on your iPod: "Hello Hurricane" by Switchfoot
First job: "I worked at the Forest Akers golf course for two summers. I was the driving range ball picker-upper. I didn't drive the cart - I wasn't cool enough to drive the cart. They gave me one of those ball boppers; I would carry one in both arms. I would have to pick up the balls that the cart couldn't get."
Favorite celebrity: Michael Jordan
Most beautiful place on campus: "North campus, by Adams field on an evening in the summer. That's hard to beat."
Favorite place to play on the road: "My favorite place to win on the road would be Michigan. My favorite place to play would probably be Northwestern. When you go on the road and you realize half the stadium is filled with Michigan State people, that's pretty neat."
Favorite home cooked meal: "My mom's twice baked potatoes. My mom can really cook."
This feature was originally published in the Oct. 15, 2011, edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine; updates were included following the Michigan game.
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