17 Sep

Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins Speech


Quarterback’s Impressive Delivery Catches the Eye of Big Ten Coaches


EAST LANSING, Mich. — The annual Big Ten news media luncheon is largely a predictable affair. Coaches deliver optimistic clichés. Joe Paterno says something technologically backward that showcases his Internet naïveté. Everyone eats lunch and goes home.

But an unexpected buzz emerged this year when Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins delivered the annual players’ speech with such vigor and poignancy that it became an Internet sensation, with more than 100,000 views on YouTube. In a heartfelt tone, Cousins said that it was a privilege to play college football and that “privilege should never lead to entitlement.”

A self-deprecating Cousins also elicited laughs when he mentioned that a grade-school child asked him if he wished he was as good a quarterback as Michigan’s Denard Robinson.

“I don’t know if it was the delivery, content or the timing, probably a little bit of each, but it probably created the most amount of reaction in the 12 or 15 years we’ve been doing this,” the Big Ten commissioner, Jim Delany, said. “It went viral and got lots of comments.”

On Saturday, Cousins will lead No. 15 Michigan State (2-0) into South Bend to play Notre Dame (0-2). Last year, the Spartans stunned the Irish on a fake field goal for their 10th victory in the past 14 meetings.

Cousins enters Saturday’s nonconference game with plenty of Big Ten coaches rooting for him.

“I was the first one to stand up in the room,” said Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema, who showed the video of Cousins’s speech to his team. “It was off the charts.”

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz and Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald wrote letters to Cousins to express how impressed they were with the speech. Ohio State Coach Luke Fickell said that Cousins’s poise and delivery showed why he had been such a productive player.

“There’s a reason why that guy is good,” Fickell said. “There’s no doubt. I’ve always said in recruiting that there’s no substitute for intelligence.”

Cousins’s Big Ten pride began at an early age. His grandfather played football for Iowa, and Cousins wore a pint-sized Tim Dwight Hawkeyes jersey. As an impressionable grade school student in the Chicago suburbs, he became riveted by Northwestern’s mid-1990s renaissance.

But a broken ankle in his junior year of high school curtailed his chances for a high-level scholarship.

The day after Cousins’s senior season ended, he had no Division I scholarship offers. By December, offers trickled in from Western Michigan and Toledo. After Michigan State fired Coach John L. Smith and brought in Mark Dantonio, Cousins got an opportunity.

It took the offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, now the head coach at Miami (Ohio), to watch Cousins play basketball for Holland (Mich.) Christian High School to prove he was athletic enough to play in the Big Ten.

“I tried to play as tough defense as I could and made sure that I ran the floor well,” Cousins said with a laugh.

Cousins’s father, Don, said that fighting for attention and a spot has been the main theme of Kirk’s football career as far back as sixth grade. When Kirk signed up late in youth football, the coach of the A team saw his size and passed on him. Cousins quarterbacked the B team to the championship, and a story line was born.

Don Cousins said that Kirk learned to use the slights as motivation, even hanging a critical article on his bulletin board during one of his battles for the starting quarterback job at Michigan State, where he beat out Nick Foles (transferred to Arizona) and Keith Nichol (now a Spartans receiver).

“He’s consistently been overlooked and underestimated,” Don Cousins said. “He’s seldom the biggest, fastest or strongest, but in the end he’s had a lot of success.”

With that success, Cousins has felt a responsibility to give back. He has visited sick children in the hospital, and has spoken at local elementary and high schools, and even a college.

Don Cousins, an evangelical Christian bible teaching minister, said he was proud of the way that Kirk had used his platform to help others.

There is a chance that Cousins’s platform could extend to the N.F.L. When a pro career became a possibility a few years ago, Cousins abandoned his pre-med major to focus on football. This year, his brother Kyle moved in with him to help him stay focused, doing small errands like buying almond milk and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal at the grocery store. Kyle, a personal trainer who studied two postgraduate years at the Moody Bible institute, said their mother, Mary Ann, chips in by bringing so many meals when she comes for games that the boys rarely need to go grocery shopping.

“Our family is very close; we’ve gone to every game that he’s started,” Kyle Cousins said. “He doesn’t get a fifth year again. To miss it would be out of the question.”

While Cousins may not be a household name like Robinson, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, or Southern California’s Matt Barkley, it fits a theme of overcoming odds that has defined his career. Cousins completed 67 percent of his passes last season, throwing for 20 touchdowns, and can tie the Michigan State record with a victory on Saturday, which would be his 21st as a starter. He is also the first three-time captain at Michigan State since the 1940s.

“He was actually named a captain before he was named the starting quarterback,” Dantonio said. “That’s a huge statement. That says it all to me.”

And after speaking to the college sports world and beyond this summer, Cousins is hoping to make an on-field statement on Saturday.



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