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Spartan QB Cousins looking for big follow-up season

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | AUGUST 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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Kirk Cousins didn't expect the flood of phone calls and text messages, both to him and his family, that came after his speech. He didn't expect video of the speech to spread so quickly around social media web sites, either.

When the Michigan State quarterback spoke stirringly on Jul. 29 at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon for over seven minutes about the "privilege" of being a college football player, he won a lot of fans. A standing ovation of longer than a minute followed the speech.

That Cousins was so eloquent didn't come as a surprise to his coaches and teammates.

"That's what we get every pregame," running back Edwin Baker told The Holland Sentinel. "He's always giving a speech to go out there, to motivate us to do the best we can, so that was no shocker to us. We knew he was doing a great job."

Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio echoed those thoughts.

"[I'm] not surprised at all," he told reporters at Michigan State's media day. "[I'm] very proud of him. He has that kind of impact on our players and our staff. Whether it's in the locker room, whether it's cracking a joke, whether it's on the field, whatever it is. He sort of has an impact on people."

Cousins said he was glad his speech was well-received, but hoped it wouldn't be the highlight of his year.

"I'd much rather be known for my play on the field than for a speech," the fifth-year senior told the team's website. "So I guess I'll have to back up my speech with my play."

His play last year helped the Spartans to a 11-2 season and a share of the Big Ten title. Cousins led the Big Ten's third-best passing attack, throwing for 2,825 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions.

Michigan State's magical season, however, ended with a thud. The Spartans were beaten, 49-7, by Alabama on Jan. 1 in the Capital One Bowl. The blowout was the most lopsided score in the bowl's history, and Cousins was sent to the sideline in the fourth quarter with a headache from — as he told reporters after the game — "an accumulation of the hits I took during the game."

In order to have a chance to redeem their bowl flop, Michigan State will need to reload on defense. The Spartans lost four of their top five tacklers from last season, including two-time All-American linebacker Greg Jones. They also lost three starters from last year's offensive line.

But led by Cousins, the team's skill positions are loaded.

The Spartans will feature three senior receivers, including B.J. Cunningham, who needs just 10 catches to become the school's all-time receptions leader. Versatile receiver Keshawn Martin was third on the team in both receiving and rushing last season.

At running back, Baker was a first team All-Big Ten selection last year when he ran for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The explosive targets returning have Cousins and the Spartans eyeing a big follow-up to their breakout 2010 season.

"It gives us confidence, knowing we've been there before," Cousins told the team's website. "But we're trying to move forward and stay hungry. If we do that, I think we're poised to have another special season."

Follow DI football reporter Sam Louwagie on Twitter.


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