He ended his collegiate career at Michigan State in dramatic fashion, leading a triple-overtime comeback against Georgia in the 2012 Outback Bowl. He was the winningest quarterback in the history of Spartan football.
An NFL.com draft profile tagged Kirk Cousins a "game manager," a back-handed compliment signifying efficiency and intelligence but perhaps an athletic mediocrity or aversion to risk.
But Cousins remained confident. He wanted to put that label to rest, so he accepted an invite to the 2012 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
In an exclusive interview with Redskins.com, Cousins reflected on his experience at the Senior Bowl, which will showcase the 2014 college all-stars Saturday on NFL Network.
"For a guy like myself and the position I was in, I thought it could only help me," Cousins said. "If anything, I'm underrated and overlooked right now."
Cousins joined the North squad as the third-string quarterback behind Russell Wilson, who will start for the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, and Kellen Moore, who is the emergency option in Detroit.
His trip to Mobile marked his first participation in any sort of all-star game. Cousins was struck by the "fishbowl," his condition under the ever-watchful eyes of the NFL decision makers who trampled the streets of the former French colony that has held the event since 1951.
Professional scouts and general managers judged every snap, three-step drop and release. They scribbled heights and weights in notebooks and arranged interviews.
While the talent slept, the evaluators met in bars on Royal St. and traded war stories. Out-of-work coaches arrived with resumes in hand.
Cousins said he thought two facets of the experience made his time in Mobile more rewarding than workouts at the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day in East Lansing, Mich.
The testing required a full week of endurance, and the prospects played live football.
"Looking back you hear a lot about the Combine and you hear a lot about pro day, but there was no bigger week for me than the Senior Bowl," Cousins said.
"There were a lot of things that I did at the Senior Bowl that I didn't have to do again at the combine. And so it made the combine a lot easier, a lot more manageable, and it made the Senior Bowl a lot more stressful."
In practice, the talent surrounding Cousins inspired him, giving him a preview of his future in the NFL.
"You get to see guys play, and you say, 'Wow , I wish they were on my team in college,'" Cousins said. "You're saying, 'Boy, that's what a top-notch receiver looks like or a top-notch running back. There were some guys that I remember just being very impressed by the way they played."
In particular, Cousins said Boise State running back Doug Martin, Utah State linebacker Bobby Wagner and Marshall pass rusher Vinny Curry raised their stock.
Martin rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie in Tampa Bay. Wagner earned Sports Illustrated's Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in Seattle. Curry has played in 20 games in two seasons with Philadelphia.
As a football enthusiast, Mobile was the place to be. As a participant, the pressure was on.
"It was weird to have learned an offense on Monday for the first time and then have to play in a game on Saturday," Cousins explained, "and to throw to receivers who you've only thrown to for a matter of a few days, and to say a play to offensive linemen in the huddle who you've only talked to for a few days...
"And yet, you had to go out and perform. We were all feeling the same things. We were all trying to accomplish the same things. We were all trying to impress and get drafted."
The Minnesota Vikings coached Cousins on the North team. Mike Shanahan and the Redskins coached the South.
Cousins said his interaction with Washington was minimal. He had one meeting with a college-level scout, but joined Wilson and Moore for a casual 45-minute conversation with Shanahan, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur.
When the game arrived, Cousins shined. He completed 5-of-11 passes for 115 yards, an interception and a touchdown, tossing a 41-yard strike to Arizona State receiver Gerell Robinson in the third quarter of a 23-13 win for the North.
"Coach Shanahan later told me after the fact that he noticed some throws that I made during that game caught his attention," Cousins said. "I think it caused him to keep an eye on me as he went back to D.C. and watched some film on the potential quarterbacks to draft.
"In that sense, I think it did have an impact on ending up here."
After the game, Sports Illustrated draft expert Tony Pauline lauded Cousins' arm strength, touch and decision making. The Redskins drafted the quarterback in the fourth round (102nd overall).
Since then, he has become a valuable backup to Robert Griffin III. Cousins won his first career start at Cleveland as part of a seven-game win streak that ended in 2012 NFC East title.
Cousins was up-and-down during three starts in 2013, but had his best game as a pro with 381 yards passing and three touchdowns on the road at Atlanta.
As he looks back on the 2012 Senior Bowl, Cousins views the All-Star game as a harbinger of bigger things to come.
"As time has passed, I think the guys who showed a lot of good things on the practice field that week and showed some playmaking ability on game day have gone on to good careers thus far," Cousins said.
"I think some of the guys who were highly touted but were awfully quiet during the game and awfully quiet during the week, I haven't heard a lot from them.
"So I think it was a very telling week."