The team that drafted him had just mortgaged their future in order select a player who plays the same position as him three rounds earlier.
Three years later, he became the face of the franchise, and after three above average seasons, played himself into one of the richest contracts in NFL history.
Find out how Kirk Cousins Knight mindset has manifested itself throughout his career and has made him the lovable outlier of NFL quarterbacks:
“The best player? You know, that’s a tough one,” Mark Dantonio said during a press conference in 2017. “Usually the best player has to do it all. He has to be in control of the game, he has to be a great leader in the locker room – he has do all these different things. So I hate to put it out there, but I would have to say Kirk Cousins.”
“I think you have to build in loyalty to each other,” Dantonio said. “Chemistry is so important. You have to put yourself behind others. As a leader, you walk behind people a lot. If you’re out in front, who’s with you, sometimes they won’t follow you. But if you push them forward, I think you get much more out of it. So loyalty to each other and chemistry, I think that makes all the difference. When I look back at our most successful teams, probably those teams have been the closest.”
These are words of praise from a coach who respects one of his former players as much as that former player respects him, and Kirk Cousins respects Mark Dantonio tremendously.
Respecting coaches and mentors is a hallmark of athletes like Kirk Cousins, who share the Knight athlete type.
In an article he penned for the Players’ Tribune, Cousins raved about his former coach and how he turned a struggling football program into one of the premier programs in the Big Ten.
“The thoughtful outlook, the supportive attitude, those personal conversations — they’re not a stunt. Rather, they’re examples — just a few of many I could give you — of the culture that Coach D has built at Michigan State over these last nine seasons,” Cousins wrote. “It’s a culture that values people as people — not athletes, not blue chips, not superheroes, not scapegoats — and uses relationships, more than anything else, as its positive energy source.”
Cousins still stays in touch with Dantonio, someone he credits with establishing a strong locker room environment and in turn, football program.
“And while that culture started with Coach Dantonio, it wasn’t long before it permeated through the entire program. Trust me on this one: When the head coach acts like that … you notice. Everyone notices,” Cousins said.
Dantonio wasn’t the only mentor from Cousins’ college days he has talked about fondly in recent years, there is also former teammate and Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer. The deep respect he has for people who have taken him under their wing is obvious anytime Cousins talks about them.
“I remember when I arrived to Michigan State just being very impressed with the way he threw the football,” Cousins said of Hoyer. “I’d never been around a guy who threw it that well and Brian was really talented as a passer and that’s why he’s played as long as he has in the NFL.”
Hoyer took the then-18-year-old Cousins under his wing and showed him the ropes of being a Michigan State quarterback.
“Brian was a great mentor,” Cousins said. “I had so much to learn when I came out of high school and he was so far ahead of me, so I just enjoyed watching, learning. There’s still things that I remember today that he told me when I was a freshman at Michigan State about different ways to use protections or how to throw a certain route that still have stuck with me and I still use it today as a tip or reminder.”
In a profile for GQ about Cousins, written by Clay Skipper, Skipper offers us a slice of the mindset of Kirk Cousins and what sets him apart from other franchise level NFL quarterbacks.
With most Knights, it seems like it’s tough to get to know them, when this may not be the case. What does happen though, is when a Knight let’s you in– you begin to feel a strong connection and the warmth of a true friendship.
“What I’ll learn from my time with Cousins is that this tenderhearted, almost clumsy intensity is always there, even when he’s away from the field,” Skipper writes. “The frugality, the shouting-to-God honesty, the old van, the brain training, the superpower he longs for… these are not quirks so much as steps in a life of extremely intentional design. Kirk Cousins knows exactly who he is, and he’s exactly where he believes he should be.”
Cousins is an avid reader, according to Skipper, “The accumulation of knowledge is a powerful thing,” Cousins told him in their interview. Not only that, Cousins is “a man of routine, because routine is improvable, quantifiable, predictable,” which must be all things that bring him comfort in his day-to-day life as an NFL quarterback.
A lot of Knight athletes have trouble with things like dealing with criticism and not opening up about things that are bothering them, but Cousins has shown growth in these areas.
In an pre-season interview from 2017, Cousins admits he has had some faults early on as a starter in the NFL, stemming from being too low-energy and lacking in leadership capacity, a common criticism from those outside the locker room and media members.
“I need to be more of that guy. I think from the day I entered the league, I’ve tried to be a little more buttoned down, a little more careful to not stick my foot in my mouth, and I think I need to let myself come out,” Cousins said. “I think what I’ve shown for years now really isn’t me, partly because there’s so much on my mind and so much I’m trying to do that I try not to get distracted by anything. But when I’m rolling and I’m feeling good, that’s the Kirk that comes out.”
Now, as he moves on with his career as the newly minted starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings, Kirk Cousins won’t change who he is.
He will likely keep holding his coaches and mentors in high regard, while building relationships and close friendships with his new teammates, all while living his life based on the core values that have gotten him to this point.
“When I was in college, if someone had said, ‘You’re going to play six seasons in the NFL, and you’re going to be able to earn a good living where you can take care of your family,’ I would’ve said, ‘That’s good enough. I’m good. I can die a happy man,’” Cousins says. “Now I’m here. And you’re looking for more. You’re chasing more.”
Kirk Cousins, a Knight athlete living his dream, his way.