Brett McMurphy

Michigan State’s Cousins sets standard for integrity

by Brett McMurphy January 06, 2012 in Football

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The speech started like most speeches begin at these luncheons. Those in attendance gulped down their food, carried on small talk at their tables while feigning attention to the speaker.

That was exactly the situation this summer during the Big Ten’s Kickoff Luncheon when Michigan State senior quarterback Kirk Cousins stepped to the podium. The crowd of 1,800 soon discovered, however, that the speech delivered by Cousins, one of about two dozen speakers that day, would be different.

Vastly different.

Cousins started talking about privileges – the privileges afforded a student-athlete and also the responsibilities of having to live up to these privileges. He mixed in some good natured humor and talked about the student-athlete’s duties as role models.

“We could redefine ‘what is cool’ for young people,” Cousins said. “We could set a new standard for how to treat others. We could embody what it means to be a person of integrity. We could show to young people that excellence in the classroom is a worthy pursuit. We could show that it’s more important to do what is right, than to do what feels right.

“While I believe we as players, do not deserve the platform we have been given ... we have it nonetheless. It comes with the territory of being a college football player in the Big Ten. May we as players have wisdom to handle this privilege and the courage to fulfill the responsibility we’ve been given.”

About seven minutes later, Cousins finished: to a standing ovation.

Cousins’ speech should be mandatory viewing for everyone involved in college athletics from student-athletes to coaches to administrators.

As good as Cousins is at public speaking, he’s not too bad of a quarterback. Just ask Wisconsin.

On Oct. 22, Cousin’s 44-yard Hail Mary pass to wide receiver Keith Nichol with no time remaining gave Michigan State a 37-31 upset of Wisconsin in what ranks as one of the greatest finishes in college football history.

Cousins, in his usual humble manner, downplayed the game-winning touchdown.

“We work on it every Thursday,” Cousin said after the victory. “We work on it over and over and over.

“Ultimately you’re just trying to put it in the end zone. Buy time for the guys to get down there. I tried to buy as much time as I could then I felt like I needed to let it go.”

Behind Cousins, the Spartans are closing on the Big Ten’s Legends Division title and a berth in the inaugural Big Ten championship game. And the biggest reason is because of Cousins – on and off the field. Cousins is one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. The other finalists are Emmanuel Acho (Texas), Jake Bequette (Arkansas), Drew Butler (Georgia), Austin Davis (Southern Mississippi), John Dowd (Navy), Chase Minnifield (Virginia), Dan Persa (Northwestern), Nate Potter (Boise State) and Dawson Zimmerman (Clemson).

Earlier this season, the three-year starter surpassed Jeff Smoker as the winningest quarterback in school history. Now he’s preparing for the end of an ultra-successful career.

“That’s part of being a senior,” Cousins said. “You’re coming down to your last stretch and you want to make the most of it; you want to finish as strong as you ever have. Sometimes it gets brought out the wrong way, and sometimes it gets brought out the right way.

“Certainly I’m being coached to make sure I don’t hurt my team with my emotion. It will be important going forward to just use my passion and channel it to turn into wins for our team.”