Editor’s note: Cyrus Kouandjio was a five-star prospect coming out of high school, with scholarship offers to play almost everywhere–including many options within the SEC, namely Alabama and Auburn. He went on to choose Alabama in controversial fashion, played three seasons–starting two. This past month he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills.
SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: Cyrus, during your junior year of high school, you once told me that you wanted to be a trend setter at your position by the time you went to the NFL Draft. You said you wanted to redefine your position and then set records for how many reps you got on the bench, how quick you were, etc. That was in May 2010. Four years later, do you feel like you did that? And does it really matter now that you’re in the pros?
Cyrus K: “I did not meet my goals there, and I’ll live with it, but whatever. That’s what I wanted to do when I was in high school, but I also wanted to be an All-American, and I’m happy I got that. I came up short on the Outland Trophy, but for the most part I’m really happy with how things went. I thought I’d end up in the first round of the draft (he went high in the second to Buffalo) but I fell short of that, but I’ll live with that. I’ll embrace it. I played three years of college football, won two national championships and I was an All-SEC and All-American player, first team. So I think I’m pretty happy with all of that.”
SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: Let’s look back to around national signing day in 2011. Your brother Arie is already on Alabama’s campus, but with your parents standing behind you, you sat down on national signing day and picked Auburn–which had just won the national title with Cam Newton. Of course, we all know you didn’t sign anything that day and a few days later you signed with Bama. Can you take us through all of that, now that it’s been some time and things worked out so well?
Cyrus K: “Well it was the last weekend before signing day and I had just come back from Auburn with my offer, and two days later I’m supposed to make my decision. I had no idea where I wanted to go. I was a young kid with cameras all in my face. I remember thinking ‘Hey, I think I’ll go to Auburn’, but I had no idea where I really wanted to go. I figured I’d just say that and pick up the pieces later on. And I decided before then that I’m not going to sign anything anyway until I’m sure. After that, we had a family meeting and my Dad said I needed to make a decision and sign one and let it go. It was that family meeting that we decided to do that, and that I was going to stick to that decision. Right as I was going to sleep, I saw something from my religious leader, from God, that told me, ‘Cyrus, you should go to Alabama’. I followed that and signed and it took me to two national championships. The other choice (Auburn) would have taken me to a different path.”
SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: While we’re talking about Auburn, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the Iron Bowl last fall. Granted, as an Alabama player, that night probably wasn’t much fun, but as time has passed some, is there even a small part of you that has thought ‘Hey, I may have played in the best college football game ever?'”
Cyrus K: “I honestly thought it was one of the most fun games I played in my life. I mean, we’re used to blowing teams out, used to beating up on a team. But after the first couple of rounds that game, Auburn was right with us, blow for blow. They didn’t back down. It was fun. I didn’t like the outcome of course, it sucked, but it was fun. It was the most exciting game I played in my whole life. The crowd was crazy and it was well worth it.”
SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: With all the things that have swirled around out there about your QB, A.J. McCarron, give us your take–from a guy who was one of only a handful of people who was in a huddle with A.J. every day.
Cyrus K: “He’s a hard core, tough nosed football player. He was very passionate about the sport and games, and a very good leader. I don’t know what all has been going on with him, because I’m not reading into all of that stuff at all. I just don’t do that. I don’t even know the stuff written about me half the time.”
SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: Cyrus, how about your unique take on Nick Saban and how the show is run at Alabama. Can you give us your take on the program, now that you don’t have to run laps based on what you say?
Cyrus K: “I learned a lot from all of them. I learned about the keys to success, about efficient work, heading in a good direction, and about working hard and smart. I learned a lot about managing your time, and that this is extremely important. I learned that if you can be efficient, you have a better chance to succeed. I learned a lot of things from them. From what I hear, and really what I believe, what we went through (at Bama) was tougher than a pro program. All of the hitting was demanding on your body. But I think it all prepared me two-fold for the next level. I’m ready for the schedule and for how demanding it is.”
SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: Now that you have millions of dollars at your disposal, I have to ask you if you’ve seen the ESPN 30-for-30 film “Broke” and thought a bit about what all of those athletes went through, the way they blew money when they were rich?
Cyrus K: “Oh yeah, I’ve watched that show about five or six times now. It’s fun to watch. The invisible wall is there and has to be there. I’ve never even had a job that pays $20,000 a year. I’m literally going from nothing to what I make now, and I could be a prime target for people to try to take advantage of. But I like to keep things simple. I did study business and operations management and I read a lot of business books and a bunch about real estate and franchising. Most people tell me to be careful with finances and stuff like that, and I will. And I’ll worry about all of that more down the road, but right now I just want to be a force on the football field. That’s my focus.”
SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: I have to ask. Arie’s going to miss you, isn’t he?
Cyrus K: “I really did enjoy the relationship with my brother (Arie) through my career. We both got injured and had to go through that and came back at about the same time. It was a great experience, something you can’t buy. I enjoyed it. My parents were proud and it was a blessing. I enjoyed every second of it.”
SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: Overall, sum up your Bama experience.
Cyrus K: “I feel as though I had a great career in college, but as an athlete you can’t be complacent with what you’ve done. You always push the bar higher. It’s not even close to being over yet. I’m still going through my journey. It’s not a hobby anymore, this is my job. I love my job, I have a smile on my face. I love it. I’ve been doing it for so long, and now I’ll be doing it for income, for my livelihood. It’s a blessing, it really is.”