Your Gifts at Work

Former UH Quarterback up for the challenge

A self-described “small-town guy,” Kevin Kolb admits he was a little nervous about his decision to attend the University of Houston.

Having spent much of his life following his father to coaching jobs in rural Texas, Kolb felt at home in locker rooms and on football fields, but he wasn’t sure what to expect in Houston. He was a little scared of the “big city” and unsure about connecting himself to a program that wasn’t widely known. But as a former player for then head coach Art Briles, Kolb trusted that together the two of them could create something memorable at UH.

“I just knew that he was driven and he had the desire to win,” Kolb said. “I wanted to be the guy that helped him get there. I had a lot of faith in him, and I think he had a lot of faith in me. We looked forward to achieving change together.”

The decision, Kolb said, was the absolute right one. After breaking school records and leading the university to its first conference championship in football in years, Kolb’s success with the Cougars translated into personal success. His professional career started as the 36th overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft, and has led three years later to a chance to lead the Philadelphia Eagles as starting quarterback for the 2010 season. Kolb is now starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.

“It is gratifying,” he said of his new position. “I worked hard to get here. I wanted the opportunity, and I know that this position comes with a lot of responsibility, but I am looking forward to the challenge and getting it done.”

Kolb’s strong work ethic began as a young boy when he found his place on the football field.

“My dad was a coach, so from the time I was little he had me in the locker room, and around the guys and passing the ball back and forth quite early,” he said.

A standout star in high school at Stephenville, Kolb fielded scholarship offers from many schools, including Oklahoma State University. Though he knew he wanted to play for Briles, it was advice from his uncle to consider what cities had the best job opportunities that helped to seal the deal for Kolb.

“That is something that an 18-year-old kid doesn’t think about,” Kolb said. “He said, ‘Where do you want to live when you graduate?’ Houston made the most sense. And once I got there, I understood what he was talking about. The networking that goes on within the campus, and the people that you get to meet – it can take you to endless possibilities.”

Much of that networking came as a student at the Cyvia and Melvin Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the top-ranked program where Kolb was a student.

“It was always something I was interested in,” he said of the entrepreneurship program. “I knew as a young kid I wanted to play football, or start my own business, and so that was just something that fit my personality. When I get done with football, I still want to go down that path.”

The classes he attended and the experiences he had in the entrepreneurship program will no doubt help him when he eventually makes that move to start his own business, Kolb said.

“The entrepreneurship program is totally different,” he said. “It is an open forum, and you can speak out when you want. We got to dissect a lot of different business plans. It was a good way to do hands-on learning that you don’t get to experience elsewhere.”

Kolb spent his first year living on campus at Cullen Oaks – an experience he loved because of the sense of community he felt on campus.

“When I got there, the thing I liked about UH is that it was in a big city, but it had a small-town atmosphere,” he said.

That first year, Kolb started as quarterback and continued to lead the team for the next four years, helping the university rebuild a winning tradition. Over the years, he broke countless school records in passing and total offense, and racked up numerous awards, including Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2003 and Conference USA Offensive Player of the year in 2006.

In 2003, he helped lead the team to the Hawaii Bowl – the Cougar’s first trip to a bowl game since 1996. He would lead them to two more bowl games, and in 2006, he led the team to win its first Conference USA Championship in a decade – an amazing moment for Kolb and the rest of the team.

“I remember, I walked out of the tunnel – it was the first game that had been completely sold out – I walked out and got the chills,” Kolb said, describing the championship game. “Coach Briles, he hugged me around the neck, and said, ‘We earned this.’ To see that, your last home game, to see everybody out there and win the conference championship – that is something I will never forget.”

That season, Kolb said, he remembers a renewed sense of pride on campus, as students and alumni relished Houston’s time in the spotlight.

“Our main goal was to put Houston back on the map,” he said. “I think we were able to do that, and it was gratifying at the end of my career there.”

Though his schedule with the Philadelphia Eagles is busy, Kolb said he still keeps up with the Cougars, and often chats with Case Keenum, UH’s star quarterback. He said he expects great things from the team in the future.

“Those guys have done a great job of picking up where we left off,” Kolb said. “That is what makes an alumni feel really good – when you start something and the next group helps to continue with the successes.”

When he thinks back on his time at UH, Kolb said he feels nothing but pride in his school.

“It is such a hidden gem,” he said. “It is such a gift from God that I wound up going there. I met a ton of cool people, and it was such a cool program. I met friends there who I would have for the rest of my life.”