TAMPA — When the Big Ten fired off an email last summer asking its schools to nominate a player to speak at its kickoff luncheon in Chicago, John Lewandowski fired right back.
Michigan State's communications chief knew the beauty of Kirk Cousins' oratorical spirals.
"As soon as I hit the send button I called (Big Ten assistant commissioner) Scott Chipman and I said, 'Hey, I'm not trying to pressure you, but if you don't pick him, you ought to quit having someone speak on behalf of the student-athletes,' " Lewandowski recalled.
With the help of his dad and Lewandowski, Cousins — the Spartans' fifth-year senior quarterback — spent three weeks crafting a six-plus minute address focusing on the privilege of playing major college football, and the responsibility that accompanies it.
Five months and 170,000 YouTube hits later, people still talk about it.
"I've been experiencing that for four years, so in retrospect, I probably needed to be more like 'Wow,' " Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said.
"But for me, that's the standard that he has set. And when I say our (program's) culture has changed, he's largely responsible for a lot of it. In essence, he promotes excellence, and that's what he did that day."
Meet the Outback Bowl's "other" quarterback.
With much of the pregame attention focused on the homecoming of Georgia starter and Plant High alumnus Aaron Murray, Cousins wraps up his career the same way he commenced it — unassumingly.
He arrived on campus five summers ago with neither a 40-yard dash time nor a major college offer — outside of East Lansing — to speak of. He exits as the program's career leader in wins, touchdown passes, pass efficiency and public appearances.
"I feel like I've given everything I can to Michigan State," Cousins said. "Win or lose (today), I'll be very proud of the effort that I and our program have given over the past five years."
From pulpits to pediatric wards, he has charmed, challenged and inspired. He already has his degree and, barring something catastrophic, will have the school's total-offense record by the end of today's game. He is Tim Tebow on Slim-Fast, Danny Wuerffel with a Midwest accent.
"A lot of people ask me, 'Is he really that good of a guy?' " Spartans senior fullback Todd Anderson said. "But I mean, he's everything you'd ask for. He's a genuine person, strong in faith."
The son of a minister who consults at churches nationwide, Cousins grew up in Chicago but moved to Michigan with his family in time to break virtually every offensive record at Holland Christian.
Yet by the end of his senior season, only Toledo and Western Michigan had made offers. Scouts raved over his throwing technique, but he impressed exactly no one when gauged with a scale or stopwatch.
Dantonio, meantime, was struggling to sign a quarterback — any quarterback — on his recruiting board. He brought Cousins in for a visit because he hadn't seen him compete live, sent an assistant to watch him practice with Holland Christian's basketball team.
"Early impressions were a very polished young man," Dantonio said. "A young man that had definite goals, very goal-oriented, had definite virtues, was very faith-based."
By his redshirt sophomore year, Cousins (6 feet 3, 205 pounds) was the starter. He exits as only the second three-year captain in program history. The meticulous preparation that helped him win the position now has been complemented by physical development.
"He didn't come as the five-star recruit; he came as the guy that was going to get it done," Dantonio said. "He's put on 30 pounds, I think, since he's come, probably grew an inch."
That's merely height and weight. Many suggest there's no way to measure his reach.
Cousins has touched that many.
"There's no question in my mind that he is the epitome of a team player," Dantonio said. "And that's not just in the huddle, it's off the field as well, and he's the epitome of what you'd consider an MVP on your team."