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The Kouandjio Conundrum

Before Cyrus even signed with Alabama, Arie told me in an interview after the Capitol Bowl Game in Orlando that it was his dream to play beside his brother here. (Photo by Larry Burton)

 The Kouandjio Conundrum

By: Larry Burton

Big Brother Arie was born on April 23rd, 1992 and “Little” brother Cyrus came along on July 21st, 1993 just 15 months later. They were both born in the African nation of Cameroon and have royalty in their blood. Their father, Jean-Claude Kouandjio, was one of 37 children born to a Cameroon King.

It was a big but somewhat scattered family as his father had nine wives to go along with those 37 children and with that many feet under the royal table, Jean-Claude thought it better to strike out on his own and where better than the shores of the United States.

They made the move just as both boys were near their first grade years. Jean-Claude, a network engineer, settled in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. and sought not sports, but a good education for his children. But he couldn’t keep them from sports for very long. First it was soccer, then baseball, judo and basketball. Football was still an unknown subject.

But school coaches couldn’t help but notice the size and athleticism of both young men and by high school, both were pulled into football as well.

Jean-Claude was worried that too much sports meant too little studying so he made the boys decide on one sport and one sport only. Arie, the oldest, picked football. Cyrus made the choice too to be with his brother. They have been together on most things since that date, but that almost wasn’t the case.

Once Jean-Claude found that schools would offering scholarships for the boys football prowess should they get as good as coaches thought, the whole family became football fanatics. They hired Myron Flowers to coach them and work them into realizing their potential. Whether their football careers ended in college or in the professional ranks, getting the degree and a quality education was the main goal.

Flowers is a well known trainer in the Washington D.C. area. He’s trained dozens of division one athletes, some of which made it to the NFL. The Kouandijio brothers needed this help, they were playing catch up, not having grown up as football fans. Soon recruiters all knew the “Kouandijio Boys” and both had potential written all over them.

This year, they finally fulfill a long time dream of not only starting together at Alabama, but starting and playing side by side. For teams facing a pair of well chiseled 310 and 315 linemen who will surely be playing on Sunday in the near future, the conundrum of how to handle this pair will be daunting.

They were at  one time, both hurt with knee injuries, but now, both are ready to play, to shine and to make life miserable for defensive personnel.

The two are close as you would expect brothers to be, but they respect each other as individuals. When it looked like Cyrus may choose Auburn over Alabama, I asked brother Arie about his role in helping sway his brother. In an interview from 2011 Arie told me, “Yes, I want him to come to Alabama, but I do not believe it is something I should insist on. I told him he needed to make his own decision. It is his choice and he should do what he believes is right for him.”

The late decommitment from Auburn to Alabama caused much speculation in many areas. What you heard and what you may have wanted to believe depended on which team you pulled for, but in the end, the truth was very simple and sincere.

Cyrus wanted to play with his brother, but was afraid of competing with him for the same job. What if he was the reason his brother sat on the bench? Though both had great potential, by all accounts, the scouts and recruiters seemed much higher on Cyrus than Arie.

But in the end, family won out. Now the family only has to worry about getting one college stadium on Saturday, not two and the brothers are happy to be together.

After the SEC Championship Game, I cornered Arie and told him that Chance Warmack had more more start and then he would be the man. I asked him how he felt about that starting next to his brother next year.

Arie said, “I am sad to losing Chance, he’s a good friend of mine and he has helped me very much, but I am ready!” And he said that with a big toothy grin that made you know he really meant it.

“To just be a part of this team has been a dream come true, to finally start after this long and overcoming injuries will be another dream come true.” He said. “We have a long tradition of great offensive linemen here and if I do become one of them along with my brother, that will be very special to me and my family.” Arie concluded.

Very special indeed.

Last season, Barrett Jones stayed for his senior season, in part, to spend just one season getting to play with his brother Harrison. Though they did play together some, Harrison was not a starter with his brother. Also last season, Tyler and Wilson Love were on the roster together, though they weren’t starters and even AJ McCarron had his brother Corey on the roster, but they never started together.

Two brothers starting is indeed rare, two playing side by side is even rarer, but then the odds of two young boys from a small African nation coming to play football for Nick Saban and winning multiple national championships proves that anything is possible.

The only thing that may prove impossible is for defenders to find a way to stop being bulldozed by these brothers on running plays, or finding a way to get past them on passing plays. That is Kouandijio Conundrum.

Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow Larry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter
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