Every marriage has its surreal scenes, but two years ago, Sara Zeitler captured one too funny to make up. Her then-1-year-old daughter, Kaleia, is in the backyard, running with a cast on her broken right arm. From out of frame comes Sara’s husband, Kevin, pulling a weight sled tethered to his shoulders with the casual look of someone out for an afternoon stroll.
Kevin offers Kaleia a low-five. She toddles by him, then looks back — at Kevin? At Sara’s phone? — as if the absurdity of the moment has hit her.
“I’m not embarrassed by anything he does at this point,” Sara, laughing, said recently of Kevin, now in his second year as the Ravens’ stalwart right guard. She’s used to this by now. “I’m like, ‘That’s him, and it’s working for him. So who am I to change what he’s doing?’”
To know their relationship is to understand Kevin’s football life, how a three-star recruit from Southeast Wisconsin turned into an All-American, first-round pick and one of the NFL’s best interior linemen. And to know Kevin’s football life is to understand why their relationship matters so much to him.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he said Wednesday, because she’s always been by his side. They’re grateful to have shared a love story this deep. Their memories explain why.
The Kevin whom Sara remembers from high school was a very serious Kevin, “100 times” more serious than the no-nonsense Kevin of today. When he was 15, he watched the 2005 Bowl Championship Series national title game between Texas and Southern California and realized what he wanted to do: Be really good at football. An athletic scholarship was his most likely path to college, so he went about finding ways to get one.
Kevin was open to suggestions. When a wrestling coach at Wisconsin Lutheran High School told him the sport would help him with his football career, he dropped basketball that day. (He ended up going 32-6 in his first year of wrestling and 43-2 in his second year, finishing as the state’s runner-up at heavyweight.)
At school dances, Kevin would ditch his friends on the dance floor and sneak into the weight room, pumping iron in ironed shirts and dress pants. “It was so funny,” Sara said. “People would be like, ‘Where’s Kevin?’ ‘Oh, he’s trying to get a real quick lift in during the dance because he doesn’t have time for this.’”
By the time he graduated in 2008, Kevin had two state football titles and offers from across the Big Ten Conference.
Kevin didn’t know whether his future wife even liked him. He and Sara were just friends in high school. They went to the same parties, competed on the school’s track and field team together and happened to pick colleges not far from each other — the University of Wisconsin for Kevin and Carroll University for Sara.
Sara’s brother went to Wisconsin, too, so she’d see Kevin every once in a while in Madison. As a sophomore, he called her out of the blue. “I don’t really know why I called to tell you this,” Sara remembered him saying, but he’d been named the Badgers’ starting right guard. Sara told him she’d come to his next home game.
They hung out afterward. She liked spending time with him. She came to the game after that, and the game after that. Sara said she was falling “head over heels” for him. For a while, Kevin either couldn’t tell or couldn’t believe it. He’d never had a girlfriend before. A group of friends had to intervene on Sara’s behalf.
“They’re like, ‘You need to ask her to be your girlfriend,’” they told him. He did, and they started dating.
Sometime late in college, they were in a grocery store together. At least physically. Mentally, Kevin had teleported somewhere else, if only briefly. He was practicing pass sets in public. “I was like, ‘What — what are you doing?’” Sara remembered asking him. “Just working on my craft,” Kevin said, as if kick-sliding between rows of fruit were a normal thing.
“Oh, all right,” Sara said. “Makes sense.”
So began Kevin’s long, public courtship of confused looks (usually strangers’) and stifled laughs (usually Sara’s). Furniture stores, photography studios, Napa Valley wine tunnels — where others might see an opportunity for phone time or a moment of relaxation, Kevin has glimpsed opportunities to refine his technique. Almost nowhere is off-limits. Not even a hospital’s labor and delivery room.
Before Sara gave birth to their second daughter in July 2021, the mood in their room was relaxed. She was watching Netflix on her iPad while a nurse tended to clerical duties nearby. With a moment to himself, Kevin set up in his stance and got in a few pass-blocking repetitions, his Jordans sliding across the hardwood floors. Sara recorded the moment and later tweeted out the video.
It went viral; more than 1.6 million people have watched it on Twitter. Teammates chimed in — “He’s ALWAYS pass setting,” fullback Patrick Ricard joked — and so did admiring peers. “He’s doing a good job keeping his Inside Foot straight,” former Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tra Thomas tweeted.
“I was like, ‘Why is this such a huge thing?’” Sara said. “I get it, because I don’t see other people doing it. But for me, it was just so second nature. I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m going to share this with my, like, 200 Twitter followers. They’ll think it’s funny.’ And then he didn’t even know I recorded it, and he said to me … ‘What did you do? I didn’t know you recorded that.’ I’m like, ‘I just thought it was funny! Because anybody who knows you will think it’s so funny because that’s what you do. That’s who you are.’”
Appetite for success
The night Kevin proposed, Sara knew the question would be popped. He’d sent her a bouquet of flowers and scheduled a spa day for her and a friend, then picked her up afterward for a romantic dinner at a restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan.
Sara, too nervous to eat, ordered a steak anyway. Kevin made the most of her discomfort: He ordered a smaller steak for himself, then helped himself to her plate once it became clear she had no appetite. (Sara later said yes — not only to his proposal, but also to his suggestion that they order pizza.)
Calorically, they were a perfect match. Sara loves to cook, and Kevin loves to eat. One time, not long after they’d started dating, he went over to Sara’s house for breakfast. Kevin ate as if the food would otherwise spoil. Sara’s mom made him 10 eggs, six sausage links and “a bunch” of bacon, Sara said.
“And he was hungry shortly after that,” she added. “That was one of the beginning ones where it was like, ‘Wow, this is kind of impressive.’”
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That was just an appetizer for what was to come: regular second dinners; triple-chicken, triple-steak burrito orders at Chipotle; 10 pounds of food, devoured in a couple of days. With two young girls, Sara joked, not many days pass between trips to the grocery store.
Before games, Sara said, Kevin’s “almost unrecognizable.” The closer to kickoff he gets, the more the game demands his attention. His answers are short. His shirts are sleeveless. (Though they’re usually sleeveless anyway.) Sara knows that if she waits too long to get his attention during warmups, she might not get even a nod of acknowledgment.
“I know when he’s in game mode,” she said.
Because when Kevin commits, he really commits. The challenge has been giving all of himself to all the loves in his life: Sara; his daughters, Kaleia and Parker; football. The joy has been in finding ways to make it happen.
Kevin will do resistance training with his kids, dragging them around in delight in backyard workouts. He’ll cozy up with Sara on the couch at night while he studies film. He trusts her to handle real estate decisions when they move — the Ravens are his fourth team in 11 years — and to tell him when she’s set a personal best in strength training. When Sara was pregnant with Kaleia, he stayed up for 36 hours after playing in a preseason game to be there for her.
Sara marvels at how easily Kevin can “give everything to everybody.” Kevin said he “couldn’t ask for anything better” than Sara’s support.
“I think it’s just the art of selling out for what matters most,” he said. “You want to be the best husband in the world? Sell out to be whatever that takes. Want to be the best football player? You’ve got to sell out, no matter what. You’ve got to give up other things to get better, put in the work every day, even when other people don’t understand. Same thing for your relationship. Like, right now, what can I do to make that better? ... There’s no second-guessing when you’re really all-in.”