Like most of his NFL peers, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins celebrates wildly when something good happens. He runs down the field to jump on receivers who catch passes for big gains, hollers about how nice certain drives are, and implores his teammates to get pumped after key plays. And while exclamations of that nature wouldn’t be unusual in a typical game, there’s something very uncommon about Cousins’s particular brand of pomp: He does this in practice.
“He’s a guy who, every time he makes a first down on a third-and-1, he’s yelling ‘Aahhhh, you like that!’” said defensive lineman Chris Baker. “And we just say ‘Really? You’re excited about that? It’s practice.’”
The vast majority of NFL practices center on matters like hand placement and are so meticulous they’d bore almost any outside observer. If an NFL game is a rock concert, daily practices are the roadie guitar tune-ups before the show.
Except in Washington, where Cousins has cemented his status as both a viable starting quarterback and a hall of fame–level celebrator at practice.
“He definitely celebrates the small victories,” said former Redskins offensive lineman and current Atlanta Falcon Tom Compton, a friend of Cousins’s.
Washington players didn’t have many chances to spot Cousins’s amped-up trash talk practice tendencies when he backed up Robert Griffin III for the bulk of 2012–2014, but noticed the dramatic uptick once Cousins became the full-time starter last season, throwing 29 touchdown passes in a breakout campaign.
“You don’t hear quarterbacks do this stuff,” said tackle Morgan Moses.
While it may have been new to the Skins, Cousins’s college teammates could have told them what to expect. “He had his own way of trash-talking and it definitely wasn’t the same trash talk I would talk,” said fellow Michigan State Spartan Darqueze Dennard, now of the Cincinnati Bengals. Rather than dish insults, college Cousins would simply yell things like “I’m coming your way!” on a particular play.
That’s still his style, according to linebacker Will Compton (no relation to Tom), who said that when cornerback Bashaud Breeland wasn’t lined up correctly before a play in a recent practice, Cousins started to scream that he could have quick-snapped Breeland for an easy touchdown, getting fired up about a play that didn’t even happen. “I think on some days there are guys who are not feeling practice and then he starts chirping and guys pick the energy up,” Will Compton said.
Last year, after Cousins hit DeSean Jackson for a big play in practice, “he looks at me,” Will Compton said, “and starts yelling ‘Crabcakes and football, that’s what Maryland does!’” Cousins doesn’t limit himself to quoting Wedding Crashers, though. In June, after connecting with Jamison Crowder over the middle of the field for a touchdown on a long third down, he turned around and yelled “Booyah, I love football!” at the defenders, who laughed hysterically in appreciation and amusement. During a practice drive in early August, Cousins, pleased with a touchdown pass to Pierre Garçon, screamed “Drive of the century!”and celebrated wildly, imploring his teammates to do so as well. Seemingly everyone on the team has a story about a time Cousins was way more excited than everyone else and let it show.
“I think the matter-of-factness of my statements is what the guys laugh about,” Cousins said. “You always feel that competitive edge in practice, you are fighting for your spot — when you hit a big pass or the team has a big play that validates you being there, you feel a sense of accomplishment and for me, things like ‘booyah’ come out.”
Cousins doesn’t just toast his triumphs, though. Tight end Logan Paulsen said the QB gets “super fired up” about basically anything. “He gets excited over runs, he gets excited over protections.” Baker noted that not even scripted practice plays designed to allow the offense to succeed are off-limits. “Kirk wants to rub it in our faces,” Baker said. “He wants to scream and holler, that’s just Kirk.”
Paulsen said that Washington players didn’t realize Cousins was anything but an ultra-serious quarterback until August 2013, when he went way over-the-top with a celebration during a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans:
Tom Compton said the first practice celebration of note came later that same year, when Cousins hit a deep pass in practice and yelled “Booyah!” for all to hear.
“Everyone looked around and was like ‘What the hell was that? Oh wow — it was Kirk celebrating,’” Tom Compton said.
Tom Compton thought Cousins was “quiet” during the early part of his NFL career as he “figured things out,” but Cousins has a different read: He said he’s always been “pretty passionate” but “maybe it’s just more noticeable to the guys since I became a starter. As long as it is measured and doesn’t take away from our ability to function as an offense, I think it’s a positive thing.”
Positivity isn’t the issue, but frame of reference occasionally is. “Sometimes I get lost because I’m not really big on TV,” Moses said. “He’s shouting Game of Thrones stuff on the field if we’re moving the ball, it gets pretty absurd, but I don’t get it.”
Whether he draws a particular comment from Westeros or Wedding Crashers, all of Cousins’s antics stem from a common source: how much he enjoys playing the game, and, by extension, how much he enjoys succeeding in practice.
“It’s kind of the way I am,” he said. “I just try to enjoy everything.”