By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 2, 2011; 8:22 PM
Just after noon Wednesday, Cyrus Kouandjio sat at a table, the red light went on atop the ESPN camera in front of him and one of the nation's top football recruits announced he would play for national champion Auburn. It was a decision that came as a surprise to nearly everyone in the room, including Kouandjio's parents, according to those in attendance.
A few hours later, another surprise.
Unlike his teammates and most high school football players across the region and nation, Kouandjio never followed through by signing a National Letter-of-Intent and faxing it to Auburn. Instead, the All-Met offensive lineman reconsidered his college choice - and Auburn's main rival, Alabama, was back in the picture.
Cyrus's older brother, Arie, is a freshman at Alabama. And coincidentally, Arie Kouandjio is also an offensive lineman.
On his Facebook page, Kouandjio wrote: "not completely sure. . i just wanna b around the fam for a while and just . . . wait."
"I'd love to play right beside my brother," the 6-foot-7, 300-pound Kouandjio told WUSA-TV. "Honestly, I'm still thinking about it."
Among other Washington-area players making their decisions Wednesday, All-Met all-purpose player Dominique Terrell of Osbourn signed with Virginia, second-team All-Met defensive tackle Darian Cooper of DeMatha signed with Iowa and St. John's defensive tackle Kevin McReynolds signed with UCLA.
Those players joined more than 100 others across the area who formalized their college scholarship plans on the first day of the two-month long period for high school seniors to sign binding letters-of-intent to play college football. Some players faxed paperwork to their new schools early in the morning, while others did so after ceremonies or assemblies at their respective high schools.
Every year, however, there seem to be a handful of players whose recruitment takes an unusual turn. On Wednesday, for instance, the mother of a player in Louisiana reportedly forged her son's signature and sent a letter-of-intent to Mississippi because she wanted him to play there instead of Texas A&M. A few years ago, a Nevada player lied about receiving and accepting a scholarship offer to play for California, and the hoax was not discovered until after a school-wide assembly to honor the player.
In Hyattsville on Wednesday, DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor assumed Kouandjio would fax his letter-of-intent to the school he chose after the announcement was made on television. But while Kouandjio left with several classmates for a celebratory meal at a nearby International House of Pancakes, he never returned a signed letter-of-intent.
"I rode with him to IHOP and heard him talking with the Auburn coaches," said Cooper, who earlier in the day revealed that he picked Iowa over Michigan State. "He said he had verbally committed to Auburn. I'm pretty sure they were pleading with him to sign."
Cooper hoped that Kouandjio would come to a decision "he could be at peace with." In the meantime, Cooper said he would try to convince his teammate to join him in Iowa City.
While Kouandjio left things unresolved, McGregor's cellphone began ringing nonstop. College coaches, reporters and others tried to figure out what was happening with Kouandjio, considered one of the top recruits in the country, and what might happen next.
"He just wants time to talk it over with his family," McGregor said. "He's not 100 percent sure right now. . . . I don't know what is going to happen. I'm surprised we're even having this conversation. Once somebody announces - it's national signing day - I figured we'd be talking about something else."
Efforts to reach Kouandjio were unsuccessful.
Part of the problem, McGregor theorized, was that Alabama's coaches had made similar recruiting pitches to Arie and Cyrus Kouandjio about the potential to play left tackle, the cornerstone position of a team's offensive line. It could be difficult for a younger brother to challenge his older brother for a position on the team, though McGregor thought the concern might be unfounded. In 2009, when Arie Kouandjio was a senior at DeMatha, he played left tackle and Cyrus played right tackle.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Arie becomes a center or guard because of his size," McGregor said, though Arie Kouandjio was listed at 6-5 and 335 pounds this past season. "The one who is most likely to be left tackle is Cyrus because of his size. And there is no guarantee he is going to be the left tackle. They all have to compete for Alabama or Auburn."