NFL star Kirk Cousins advice for Michigan State graduates is so simple but brilliant

“Remember as you move forward, it’s who, not what, that counts the most,” Cousins said near the end of his address. “Don’t just deliver, over deliver.”

University of Michigan

NFL quarterback Kirk Cousins offered some sound advice for Michigan State graduates earlier this month.

The Minnesota Vikings star, who graduated MSU in 2011, drew upon both his experience as a Spartan and in the NFL to pass down life lessons to the 7,947 who were about to enter the workforce.


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He told graduates to focus on four and one-half truths he picked up while he was at Michigan State.

“Remember as you move forward, it’s who, not what, that counts the most,” Cousins said near the end of his address. “Don’t just deliver, over deliver; see life through a window, not a mirror; and choose to be a great decision maker. Do those four things, while enjoying the journey along the way, and if my life is any example, you’ll have plenty of good days ahead.”

The 30-year-old knows a thing or two about perseverance. He reminded students that he spent two of his four-and-a-half years at Michigan State as a backup quarterback before sitting on the bench for the first three of his seven NFL seasons. He signed a monster $84 million deal with Minnesota last year.

Below (Thanks to Peter King’s Football Morning in America column) are those lessons Cousins’ preached:

“The first truth that I learned at MSU is that it is who, not what, that will count the most for you. For the past four years, it’s likely you have been focused on what — what career will I choose, what will I major in. I can tell you that it will be more important who you do life with than what you do. You see, a great job done alongside people you don’t enjoy becomes less than a great job. Conversely, a rough job done alongside people you enjoy can become a great job … What I do is a dream come true. But the truth is, while some football seasons have been very enjoyable, others have been a grind. The what remained the same. The who I played with made the difference.

“The second truth: In order to succeed, you can’t just deliver; you must over-deliver. Unless you run your own company, chances are you’ll start somewhere near the bottom. In the football world, that’s called being a backup. For two of four-and-a-half years at MSU and three of seven years in the NFL, my primary position on gamedays was called the bench. While I was spending time on the bench at Michigan State, I had a coach named Don Treadwell, who said, ‘Kirk, go out every day focused on playing so well in practice that the coaches can’t wait to put you on the field in a real game.’ While you’re a backup, prepare and lead like you’re the starter … Every day, work like you’re the company president, and one day, you may be the company president.

“The third truth: See life through a window, not a mirror. There are two kinds of people in life—mirror people and window people. Most, by a wide margin, are mirror people. We travel through life, focused on ourselves, thinking, ‘What about me?’ Window people measure success by the contribution they make to the lives of others. In August of 2007, I had my very first practice at Michigan State. It did not go well. I couldn’t spit out the plays, I couldn’t get the snap count right, I missed reads. Walking off the field that day, I was considering transferring to the small Division III school in my hometown, as that felt more like where I belonged. At that moment, a team leader named Justin Kershaw walked up behind me, put his arm around me and said, ‘Kirk—how do you think practice went for you?’ ‘Not well, Justin,’ I replied. He said, ‘You may not know the plays yet, but those of us on defense can see that you have ability. Just keep working and it will come. We all struggled on our first day here.’ And just like that, my entire perspective on my future at Michigan State had changed—all because an upperclassman had stopped thinking about himself for five seconds and put his arm around a meaningless freshman … I challenge you to look at life through a window, to be a blessing to the people whose paths you cross.

“The fourth truth: Life becomes a reflection of the decisions we make. On my recruiting visit here, my future quarterback coach, Dave Warner, said something that stuck with me for the rest of my career and has been the foundation of my success on the football field: ‘Kirk, if you make good decisions with the football in your hand, everything else takes care of itself. If you make bad decisions with the football in your hand, no other trait really matters.’ While true in quarterbacking, it’s more true in the game of life. The Bible puts it this way, in Galatians 6:7. Whatever a person sows, this also they shall reap. It’s not just the big decisions, like who you marry. It’s the everyday decisions, like how you care for your health. The bottom line: make enough good decisions, and chances are things will turn out just fine.

“Let me give half a thought for that extra half-year I spent earning my degree. Through it all, enjoy the journey. You can prepare for the future today, but you can’t live the future today. If your joy in life is always tied to a future experience, you will never know true joy … To quote The Office, a show I watched in my years here, Andy Bernard says in the final minute of the final episode, ‘I wish there was a way you know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.’ “

“Do those four things, while enjoying the journey along the way, and if my life is any example, you’ll have plenty of good days ahead. Maybe even good enough to shout at someone, ‘YOU LIKE THAT!’ “

Watch the full speech in the video below.


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Kyle Schnitzer|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at kschnitzer@theladders.com.