SAINT PAUL – Kirk Cousins hopes the young men who attended his two-day football camp left with more than a deeper knowledge of the game.
Cousins welcomed 150 middle-schoolers Friday and Saturday to his first Minnesota camp, which was hosted at the University of St. Thomas. The quarterback has been holding camps of a similar format in his hometown of Holland, Michigan, since 2013.
The youngsters learned football drills and practiced various skills, but equally as prevalent throughout the programming was conversation about Cousins' Christian faith.
"It's hard for me to put on a football camp and not talk about my faith because it really is the foundation of everything I do, and football's a big part of that," Cousins told Twin Cities media members.
Each morning, he shared a Bible verse that he encouraged campers to memorize. Cousins recited what he calls his "life verse," Proverbs 3:5-6, on Friday and Galatians 6:7 on Saturday.
"It's a lot of fun, and hopefully we can use the game of football to parallel what it means to win in the game of life," Cousins said.
"We talk about how, 'The Bible is the playbook for life,' " he later added. "Much like I have a playbook on the football field, the Bible is a playbook for life. We want them to walk away understanding that and, in doing so, hopefully memorize those two verses and apply them to their life as they go on. […] I'd like to think that's going to make a major difference on their life."
Vikings fan Alex Jansen, 13, signed up for Cousins' camp to meet the QB and improve as a football player, but he also valued the messaging that went far beyond the field.
"I think it's really cool because I go to a Catholic school, so it's nice to see when athletes are also focused on religion," said Jansen, who plays quarterback for St. Thomas Academy (Mendota Heights).
He also noted Cousins' hands-on involvement in all aspects of the camp, including scrimmages, the ever-popular Knockerball, evening activities that included dodgeball, and a unique "4th Quarter" relay competition that wrapped up the camp Saturday.
"Kirk's talking with all the campers, and he's really cool," Jansen said.
Vikings QB Kirk Cousins hosted a youth camp at St. Thomas this past weekend promoting Football, Family and Faith.
Many of the young people were local to the Twin Cities, but some traveled longer distances to attend Cousins' first camp in Minnesota. Cousins was impressed by a pair of brothers who made the nearly 600-mile trek from Rapid City, South Dakota.
"When you hear of fans like that who drive 10 hours to come be a part of this camp, it means a great deal to us," said Cousins, who places an emphasis on personal interaction with the campers.
"I [won't be able to] learn all their names or get to know their life story, but I do want them to feel like I was accessible," Cousins said. "And that when they turn on the TV this fall, they can say to their parents or their friends, 'I know that guy. I've been around him, I shook his hand, I got to know him and heard his story.' "
Whether in Minnesota or Michigan, Cousins' football camps regularly become a family affair. He was later joined on campus by his wife, Julie, and two sons, Cooper and Turner; Cousins' father, Don, traveled from Orlando, Florida, to help coach.
Don recalled helping his son start the camp six years ago and is proud of how far the event has come.
"Kirk and I have a great relationship, and we've journeyed together, obviously all of his life but specifically in football, for a lot of years now," Don told Vikings.com. "He has a platform now to … make an influence on the next generation, and the fact that he now has two little boys himself, for me as a father and now a grandfather, this is a passing on of generations.
"To see your son living [out] the values that you raised him on and trying to personally make life choices such [that aren't] all about him – they're about other people and making an impact on other people – it's very rewarding and satisfying as a parent to see that," Don added.
The Cousins family hopes to a lasting impact on young people not only through sharing their faith but also by supporting others' financially.
Cousins, who along with Julie established the Julie & Kirk Cousins Foundation last fall to give back to the community, explained that proceeds from his camps help create scholarships for young people who might otherwise be unable to attend the camp.
"We just ask that they write a letter and share why they'd like to attend, and we hope to [give scholarships to] as many kids as possible in the years ahead," Cousins said.
Proceeds from Cousins' Minnesota camp also directly benefited the Hope Fieldhouse in Rosemount.
Looking back over his childhood, Cousins is grateful for the experiences he had around the game of football and enjoys passing those along to today's generation of young athletes.
He recalled living in the Chicago suburbs, prior to moving to Michigan, and attending a football camp hosted by Hall of Fame Bears linebacker Mike Singletary, who later went on to join the Vikings coaching staff (2011-13).
"I remember looking up to Mike as a Hall of Fame player, and to just get a glimpse of him one time was a big deal," Cousins said. "As you got older, through high school, the camps got more official and more focused and structured into the quarterback position, but to this day there are still fundamentals that I learned in a camp in eighth grade that I use as a foundation principle for how I play the quarterback position.
"You just accumulate knowledge and take it with you," Cousins added. "I think the fun that I had at those camps is a big reason why I love this game and why it's never really become a chore to go out and work at it."
Cousins plans to continue working with middle-school students in future camps and hopes to demonstrate to them why football always was his favorite sport.
"I don't know if it was the combative nature of it and the way that it tests you unlike any sport, but the memories made and the camaraderie, I think, is also better than any other sport that you play," Cousins said. "There's nothing better than being in a huddle with 10 other people and fighting together to try to get that extra yard. That's something that I don't know any other sport has quite the same way. I fell in love with it at a young age, and I'm privileged to still be able to be playing it."