University of Alabama Crimson Tide
DeMatha Catholic High School
An opposing defensive lineman might have thought he was suffering from a concussion, or perhaps he was seeing double when he lined up vs. the Crimson Tide's left side of the offensive line. Staring right down at that opponent would be 6:07 guard Arie Kouandjio and his 325-pound frame. Right next to Arie stood his brother, Cyrus, almost as tall at 6:06.6 and equally massive at 330 pounds. This would become a regular event each week during the 2013 season – a double dose of Maryland prospects manhandling any defender that even tries to get to quarterback A.J. McCarron.
That "nightmare" for future Southeastern Conference opponents will be reduced in half during the 2014 college football season, as Cyrus is taking his massive frame and equally big set of skills to the National Football League next season. The consensus All-American hopes that he has as much success on draft day as his former teammates who left the Tide family early for the NFL.
Prior to the latest influx of underclassmen to leave school, Alabama has had 13 third-year sophomores and juniors leave the school and enter the draft before their college eligibility had exhausted, under the Nick Saban era. Of those 13, 11 have been selected during the first round. Based on his stellar performances throughout his two seasons as a starter, Kouandjio is more than likely to join his 11 former teammates in hearing his name called in the first round. It will be quite different for Cyrus when he first suits up in a professional uniform in 2014.
One of four children of Georgette and Jean-Claude Kouandjio, his parents moved the family from Cameroon when Cyrus was five-years-old. He grew up playing soccer and had limited knowledge about the game of football before enrolling in high school. He would go on to spend almost his entire football career playing with his brother. Both were regarded as the most talented offensive linemen in the country while attending Maryland power-house DeMatha Catholic High School. Their former prep coach, Elijah Brooks was a witness to their journey into the game of football and their development under his guidance before they became two-time national champions as members of the Alabama gridiron team.
Over his years serving as DeMatha Catholic's head coach, Brooks has seen some talented prospects come through his school. Two of the most talented were the two brothers. "They always had the potential to do some great things," Brooks said. "To see them on Saturday's, we just went to their game against Tennessee, to have an opportunity to hang out with those guys and see how far they've come. To see their work ethic and where they're headed, we couldn't be prouder."
People get into coaching for a variety of reasons. Some do it for love of the game, some for the love of competition. Elijah Brooks, however, says he does it to help young men realize their dreams. "It's the American dream," Brooks said. "He came here and he didn't know how to put his equipment on. Playing football for the first time then to see him grow year after year. To have the opportunity to possibly go high in the (NFL) draft, that's why we do what we do so that we can see kids reach their dreams. We're extremely proud."
Brooks has been watching both of his former offensive linemen throughout their careers with the Tide. He has noticed both improve significantly to become complete players.
"Cyrus has always been extremely athletic," Brooks said. "Where he's excelled is in the run game. When he gets his hands on guys now at that level, after being in the strength program, he does a great job at moving guys. Arie struggled with pass protection when he was in high school. But to see him grow and improve in that area, it's a pleasant site to see."
Alabama was looking at a third consecutive national championship game before their last-second stunning loss to Auburn in the 2013 regular season finale, failing to finish out their schedule without a blemish. The loss was followed by another defeat at the hands of Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Days after they returned from New Orleans, the older Kouandjio announced he had played his final college game.
There is no secret who Brooks will be cheering for next season in the NFL. "Obviously, as long as we have kids playing on those teams, we're going to root for our boys," Brooks said. "If there ever comes a time where we have guys on both teams, we'll see how that happens."
Kouandjio was one of the elite prospects at any position in the country as a senior at DeMatha Catholic High in 2010. The Parade All-American was the consensus top offensive line prospect in the nation, according to ESPNU, Scout.com, Super Prep and Tom Lemming. He was rated the second-best overall player in the nation by Scout.com and Super Prep Magazine, ranking third overall on the ESPNU 150 list and by Tom Lemming at MaxPreps.
An overpowering run blocker with excellent athleticism, tremendous overall speed and quickness for a player his size, Kouandjio put on quite a show when he started at left tackle in the Under Armour All-American Game, registering twenty knockdowns for the day. The Super Prep All-American was called the best player in the Mid-Atlantic Region by that service, as they named him their Mid-Atlantic Offensive Player of the Year in 2010.
Kouandjio was also a consensus first-team All-State selection in Maryland and even before his senior prep season began, he held over sixty scholarship offers. It was easy for him to choose the Alabama Crimson Tide over virtually every major college football program and be the prize of their 2011 signing class. After all, his older brother, Arie, had been a 2010 Alabama recruit, and the brothers were eager to reunite after a year's absence.
As soon as Kouandjio arrived in Tuscaloosa, the coaching staff realized that this massive, athletic body with wide shoulders and barrel chest was going to be a special player. With his very long, muscular limbs, he resembled a cross between a giant tight end and a WWE wrestler. Still, they wanted to bring him along slowly before having him take over the demanding left tackle position.
As a true freshman Kouandjio played behind Barrett Jones, seeing action throughout the first eight games of the schedule at left tackle for the second unit. In the eighth game vs. Tennessee, he suffered a knee injury during second half action and was lost for the rest of the schedule.
Alabama was already hurting along their front wall at the time of the injury, as starter Barrett Jones was limited in practice leading up to the game. "We have other guys that can play," head coach Nick Saban said after the Tennessee game. "Cyrus was our third tackle, so we're gonna have to get other guys to step up."
After the injury, Kouandjio was seen limping toward Alabama's home tunnel during the closing moments of Tennessee game. Shortly after, he underwent surgery. His brother, Arie, who was working behind D.J. Fluker at right tackle, also underwent season-ending knee surgery earlier this month.
By the time 2012 fall camp had commenced, Kouandjio had emerged as the Tide's new starting left tackle, displacing Barrett Jones, who shifted over to center. Starting all 14 games during Alabama's championship march, the sophomore graded 90% or better in seven contests. He delivered 24 blocks that produced touchdowns and helped the offense average 445.5 yards per game. On 328 pass plays, he allowed only 3.5 sacks.
The following season brought the Cameroon native numerous post-season honors. A consensus 2013 All-American and unanimous All-Southeastern Conference selection, Kouandjio allowed only 1.5 sacks while the Tide attempted 365 tosses. He recorded 17 touchdown-resulting blocks and opened holes for a running attack that produced at least one 100-yard runner in nine contests.
Kouandjio has appeared in 35 games at Alabama, all at left offensive tackle, starting his final 27 appearances…Registered 31 touchdown-producing blocks and 244 key blocks/knockdowns during his two seasons in the starting lineup.