Robert Klemko, MMQB SI (http://mmqb.si.com/mmqb/2015/12/01/kirk-cousins-washington-nfl)
It’s an ethos Kirk Cousins subscribes to religiously—the importance of the world beyond football—and it’s evidenced by his aggressively long in-season reading list, which includes everything from John Grisham’s Bleachers to Charles Stanley’s Finding Peace: God’s Promise of a Life Free from Regret, Anxiety, and Fear. All of which is astounding when you consider the lengths the 27-year-old, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs and went to high school in Holland, Mich., will go to succeed in the NFL.
Twelve weeks into his first season as a starter under Jay Gruden, Cousins is playing his best football since Michigan State. In his past five games he’s thrown 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions (after throwing eight picks in his first six games). In Week 10 he gave a game ball to his father, attending his first game all season, after a four-touchdown performance in a thrashing of the Saints. But even with his game improving and his team tenuously atop the NFC East, Cousins still can’t sleep on Sunday nights unless he reviews that day’s game on his tablet or drives into the office to watch it on the big screen, in an empty room with the lights off.
“I’ve got to see it at least once and go over all the mistakes,” Cousins says, “or I just toss and turn all night wondering what happened.”
“He’s a natural leader, and he’s what a QB is supposed to be,” says defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, “but he beats himself up too much. You can see it in a player’s eyes. I don’t care what sport, if you ever want to know if a guy beats himself up, look into his eyes.
“But that’s just a quarterback searching for perfection.”
“You saw him relate to anyone in the locker room—guys who were playing, certainly guys who weren’t playing,” Dantonio recalls. “People gravitated towards him. He gave one teammate a ride whenever he needed one, from the train station, any circumstance, because the guy was having trouble being on time. It’s not that he wants people to like him. He has a genuine desire to make people feel good about themselves.”
“I think you do lean on past experiences no matter what situation you’re in, and I had fought for a job before,” Cousins says. “This league is a tough league and it’ll test you, and each year is a challenge. If you look at the long haul it can be pretty overwhelming.”
“He has a perspective that I can only control what I can control,” Don Cousins says. “We really believe that God holds sway over the direction of our lives. Kirk believes that God put him in Washington to start out. Doesn’t mean he’s going to be there long term, but to start out. In faith and character he’s kept his equilibrium in a challenging set of circumstances.”
Kirk Cousins keeps two bookshelves at home. One for all the books he’s read, and one for all the books he plans to read. (He’s also written a book on football and faith, Game Changer, geared toward young readers.) Each morning before heading into the facility, he reads a chapter from his current book. He estimates he’s read between six and 10 books since the beginning of training camp, each of which seem to satisfy either the Christian or quarterbacking demographics.
A sampling of Cousins’ recent conquests:
• If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities, by Mark Batterson
• The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, by Bruce Feldman
• Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, by Ben Patterson
• The Five Thousand Year Leap: Twenty-Eight Great Ideas That Are Changing the World, by W. Cleon Skousen
• Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything, by Charles P. Pierce
Over his three years as a backup, Cousins constantly observed and read about quarterbacks, picking up several habits that create a sense of equality and collaboration on the field. “He started asking guys after plays, the guys he didn’t throw to, ‘Do you like that look right there? Were you open?’ ” says Jordan Reed, third-year tight end.
“It’s here in this place of privilege where perhaps danger lies. I’ve been taught that the place of privilege most often and most naturally leads to a sense of entitlement. The notion that I deserve to be treated as special because I’m privileged… I’ve been raised and taught to believe that privilege should lead to responsibility. We have a responsibility to give our all.”
Kirk Cousins, Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, 2011
“We can set a new standard for how to treat others,” he said.
But the danger is right around the corner. Danger in complacency. Cousins keeps a list in his phone of all the mistakes he sees recurring on film. In Sunday’s victory over the Giants, he nearly threw a pick-six on a short out route in the first quarter, but New York cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie dropped the ball. Add it to the list. He can remember, with astounding accuracy, the circumstances of his interceptions dating back to his first start in the NFL—a 38-21 victory over the Browns in 2012 in which he threw two touchdowns and one pick.
“You remember the negatives because you have the mentality of, I can’t allow that to happen again, so what do I need to learn from this experience so I don’t repeat it? And you find yourself going back and playing it over and over to prevent it, and as a result it gets implanted much stronger than the successes.”
Here’s Kirk Cousins at 27: He flies out to Tampa on his own dime to study film with Jon Gruden for a week in the offseason. He uses a Michigan-based company called Neurocore that aims to train the brain to better deal with stressors. He wakes up an hour early to pore through books about quarterbacks.
“He’s got a love for God, and a love for his fellow man; he looks to do things for other people. He extends himself,” says Dantonio. “But I think what motivates Kirk Cousins is excellence.”