Cyrus Kouandjio rarely has time to relax.
If he’s not dealing with school, he’s working out. And if he’s not working out, he’s focusing on his college recruitment.
But in those rare moments he does get some down time, Kouandjio (pronounced kwan-jo) chooses to draw, usually profiles of people.
“He has a skill for detail that really catches your eye,” says his father, Jean-Claude. “You feel life in the picture.”
Kouandjio’s personal favorite is a sketch he did for a school project. In it a man is holding a glass globe, which shows the reflection of the room behind him.
Kouandjio says there’s no special symbolism behind the piece. But in a way, it mirrors the DeMatha senior’s rise to prominence on the gridiron. When it comes to football recruiting, Kouandjio holds the world in his hand. The 6-foot-7, 295-pound left tackle is rated the nation’s No. 2 offensive lineman and No. 6 recruit in the ESPNU 150 and has offers from more than 40 college programs fighting it out to get him on campus.
All of the attention can be daunting, and art has served as a necessary escape from all the madness.
“It keeps me sane with all the hard workouts, all the phone calls and all the recruiting,” he says. “You need to have a little something on the side to relax.”
Kouandjio never imagined he’d be in this position. In 1998, he moved from Cameroon to Silver Spring, Md., as his parents sought a better education for their children. One of four kids to Jean-Claude and Georgette, Kouandjio (whose family now lives in Beltsville, Md.) grew up playing soccer and also participated in basketball and baseball when he got to the States.
It wasn’t until the seventh grade that Kouandjio was introduced to football. He immediately fell in love with the game.
“The thing that put football above all the others was how physical you could be without getting kicked out of the game,” he says with a laugh.
Kouandjio started off playing on Boys & Girls Club teams with his brother Arie, and the pair dominated. After playing his freshman year at High Point, Kouandjio transferred to DeMatha.
He made the varsity his sophomore year as a backup offensive tackle and backup defensive end, while Arie was a starter on the offensive line. The experience playing for a team that went 10-2 and won its sixth consecutive WCAC title was invaluable for Kouandjio.
“That year, I just started getting football and developing a football IQ,” he says.
Kouandjio managed to impress longtime DeMatha head coach Bill McGregor with his work ethic.
“He’ll give you a good, honest effort,” says McGregor, who’s coached DeMatha since 1982 and has led the Stags to 18 WCAC titles. “Football is sort of new to him. I think his future is in front of him. He wants to be good.”
Despite the limited playing time, Kouandjio was able to catch the attention of colleges. Pitt offered him his first scholarship a couple months after his sophomore season ended.
“I was pretty surprised,” says Kouandjio. “It made me feel wanted.”
Since then, the likes of USC, Alabama, Florida, LSU and Notre Dame have extended offers to Kouandjio, who hadn’t narrowed down his list of offers at press time.
It’s a level of recruitment McGregor hasn’t seen before. And this is a coach who had seven former players — including two-time Pro Bowl running back Brian Westbrook — on active NFL rosters last season, the most of any high school in the U.S.
“He’s by far the most highly recruited player I’ve had,” says McGregor. “His potential is unlimited.”
Last year, Kouandjio earned his way into the starting lineup at right tackle for DeMatha, which went 11-1 and fell to Good Counsel, 14-7, in the WCAC championship. Kouandjio was a Washington Post All-Met honorable mention, while Arie was an All-Met first team selection. The two brothers helped pave the way for standout running back Marcus Coker, who signed with Iowa after rushing for 1,698 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Arie, meanwhile, ended up signing with national champion Alabama. Now a freshman with the Crimson Tide, Arie is stepping back from the recruiting process, willing to offer his brother advice only if he asks for it.
“I’m not trying to push him anywhere,” says Arie. “I’m trying to let him have fun with the recruiting process just like I did last year and let him decide. I told him to take it one step at a time with an open mind. I wouldn’t want to influence him.”
Kouandjio uses all the offers he’s received as motivation to push harder in the weight room. He works out five days a week at 360Fit and Performance in Laurel, Md., and also trains with his team at DeMatha. He has added plenty of power (350-pound bench, 500-pound squat and 315-pound power clean) to his impressive athleticism.
“He’s big, strong, aggressive and tough,” says McGregor. “He has outstanding agility for a big man.”
Kouandjio’s motivation isn’t limited to living up to the hype. He talks about being disappointed he was part of a team that had its WCAC championship winning streak snapped and is earnest in his desire to recapture the tradition for the Stags.
He’s ultimately aiming for greatness. With the weight of the recruiting world in your hands, you can’t settle for ordinary.
“I want to do something different,” he says. “I don’t want to be like any offensive tackle out there.”
Kouandjio couldn’t draw up a better outcome.