Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins focuses on faith and family

By Jo-Ann Barnas

Detroit Free Press

Published: Thursday, Nov. 10 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins throws in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Nebraska, in Lincoln, Neb., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011.

Associated Press

HOLLAND, Mich. — He wanted to slip in quietly, like old times, but that was impossible.

Word was out — Kirk Cousins is in the building! — and before he found a vacant seat in Mark Hiskes' sixth-hour AP English class, Cousins already had signed a handful of autographs and smiled for students capturing his photo on their cell phones.

The attention was more than enough to certify his celebrity: Five years ago, in his senior year of high school, a strong-armed Cousins led Holland Christian to its first berth in the football state playoffs.

Now a fifth-year senior at Michigan State, he'll depart at season's end as the Spartans' winningest quarterback of all time.

Beginning in the seventh grade, after his family moved to west Michigan from Barrington, Ill., Cousins lived in a neighborhood across the street from Holland Christian. Although he had stopped by occasionally since graduation in 2007, his visits had been mostly cordial — saying hello to former teachers and coaches, maybe catching a football game when his schedule allowed.

This was more than that.

Cousins said it was his faith that guided him home to the Christian-based private school Oct. 7 — during MSU's bye week — following the Spartans' victory over Ohio State. That faith fueled his desire to be an "HC" student again, even if it was for only two class periods.

As Hiskes distributed his discussion sheets to the students, Cousins asked for one. When he saw they were reading Frederick Buechner's "Godric" — a narrative on the life of the medieval saint — Cousins exclaimed, "I love that book!"

When class was over, student and teacher embraced.

"I'm not sure why he was here, but a lot of him was grounded here," Hiskes said this week. "I think he was coming back to make sure of that, that he's the same Kirk to his core even though circumstances around him have changed."

Told of Hiskes' remark, Cousins smiled. This was Tuesday, and he was sitting in an empty and dark press box on the eighth floor of Spartan Stadium. Four floors below, MSU coach Mark Dantonio was holding his weekly news conference, answering questions about a 24-3 loss at Nebraska, which had followed the Spartans' thrilling 37-31 win over Wisconsin on Cousins' game-winning TD on a Hail Mary throw on the last play.

"Yes. It was sort of like a walk down memory lane for me," Cousins said of his journey back to high school. "But it was more of a chance to get back to what was familiar to me.

"I am somebody who lives a certain way, and I want to be able to truly stand up to that and live that way so people who do get to know me say, 'Everything I've read about him is true. It's not a facade. It's not a front. He's not fake. He's the real deal.'

"I hope to be the real deal."

Cousins smiles again, finishing his thought with a quick addendum, as if anticipating the next question.

"And I also want to be known as a great quarterback," he said. "That I was a great football player here — not just a nice guy, but for people to say, 'He made a lot of plays on the football field.'"

Thursday night, Cousins was scheduled to be the headliner at an event at MSU Auditorium that had been promoted aggressively on campus, including in a full-page advertisement earlier this week in the student newspaper, the State News.

As a member of a Christian group of college students called Cru — formerly called Campus Crusade for Christ International — Cousins said he allowed his name to be used in publicizing the event because he was asked to speak about his faith in Jesus Christ.

The slogan: "Do you agree with Kirk?"

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