Cyrus Kouandjio commits to Alabama, ending saga following DeMatha star's televised commitment to Auburn

By James Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 6, 2011; 12:16 AM

Three days after telling a national television audience that he would attend Auburn, DeMatha offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio, widely considered one of the nation's top recruits, rebuffed the national champions and committed to rival Alabama on Saturday, quietly faxing in his letter of intent.

It was a curious and anticlimactic end to a tale that revealed the indecisive nature of a highly sought-after teenage football recruit, the strength of family bonds and the high-stakes pressure of choosing between two elite college football programs.

Friends and family said all along that Kouandjio, 17, wasn't ready to announce his decision on Wednesday, the first day high school football players could sign binding letters of intent. At 5:53 that morning, Kouandjio wrote on his Facebook page that he was "utterly confused."

But when the television cameras started rolling, he announced Auburn, surprising many who believed he would join his former teammate and All-Met brother Arie, a freshman lineman on the Crimson Tide. Only four days before, the 6-foot-7, 300-pound senior went on his last official recruiting trip to Auburn.

"The last picture was in his mind," said his father, Jean-Claude Kouandjio, whose son had made official visits to Alabama and New Mexico in early December and Iowa in mid-January. "He didn't have enough time to check his last visit. It turns out he wasn't sure at all. The last thing in his mind was the last visit he did."

Since Wednesday afternoon, when he declined to sign and fax his letter of intent to Auburn, saying he had "buyer's remorse," Cyrus Kouandjio consulted with his coach, Bill McGregor, his teachers, family and friends. Ultimately, he said, the decision would be his.

There was one avenue, however, that did have Cyrus's ear. According to his father, the overwhelming response Cyrus received since committing to Auburn helped turn the tide. In the past three days, Cyrus said he received nearly 3,000 text messages, and countless Facebook messages and posts. Of his nearly 5,000 Facebook friends, over 1,000 came in the past week alone. Many of the posts, which appeared seemingly every few minutes, came from Auburn or Alabama fans ripping each other or pleading their case for their school.

"The opinion was heavier towards Alabama," said Jean-Claude Kouandjio, who earlier in the week had expressed his fear that his son was being too heavily influenced by such things as Facebook and the text messages. "The friends that wanted him to go to Alabama was heavier than Auburn. So he paid more attention to them."

The Kouandjio parents, who moved their family from Cameroon 12 years ago, are football novices. So they left the decision entirely up to their son because they couldn't offer any college football advice, Jean-Claude said.

The decision was much simpler for Arie, also a top recruit, who was enticed by Alabama's 2009 national title. When the parents talked about college football, Alabama, Coach Nick Saban and his assistants often came up because of their familiarity.

As they recruited Arie, "they told Cyrus, 'We're waiting for you,' " Jean-Claude said. "Somewhere Cyrus was psychologically prepared for Alabama. As the time was going by, the advice Cyrus had most was from his friends."

Cyrus would stay up late looking through some of the text messages, his father said. Earlier in the week, Cyrus said he didn't heed the online overtures and that it's not in his nature to reject Facebook friend requests. In fact, the recent one-upmanship of Alabama and Auburn fans (some posting photos of the national championship ring) has actually amused him, he said.

"I really don't care," Cyrus said Friday. "I might occasionally check it out and see what they're saying but half of it, most of the time its malarkey."

By delaying his signing, Cyrus followed the path of some of the nation's recent elite recruits. This year's top prospect, 6-foot-6, 250-pound defensive end Jadeveon Clowney from Rock Hill, S.C. has held off many of the dozens of top colleges, saying he won't declare his choice until his Feb. 14 birthday. Three years ago, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, then the country's top high school recruit, told reporters on signing day that he needed more time. Elite players like these are so coveted that colleges are willing to hold one of their 25 scholarship spots for them.

Standing outside his Hyattsville school on Friday, Kouandjio vowed not to drag this out much longer. He would have a decision by Monday, he said. He just wasn't sure how he'd announce it.

"I don't know if I'm going to tell my coach to tell everybody," he said, "or if I'm going to go on TV or whatever. I don't care."

Then, at around 5:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon, Kouandjio ended three days of tense waiting for legions of Alabama and Auburn fans with a simple update to his Facebook page.

"Thanks for all the love and support from the state of Alabama," Cyrus posted. ". . love all the new relationships i have made throughout this process. . but at the end of the day. . ima keep the fam together and i must say. . . . ROOLLLLL TTIIIDDDEEE!!!"

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