Today, we catch up with 2010 American Family Insurance ALL-USA offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio of DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.), who is a junior offensive lineman at Alabama. For more than 30 years, USA TODAY has recognized the nation's top high school athletes. We are digging into the archives and checking in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades.
Cyrus Kouandjio grew up in Beltsville, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C., but didn't get to see the inside of the White House until he went to Alabama.
"The best part of visiting the White House is just standing and looking at these paintings that you see of presidents everywhere in textbooks," Kouandjio says. You get to feel the history, just walking around."
Alabama's football team was honored in April at the White House for the second time in as many years for winning the national championship and Kouandjio is one reason the Crimson Tide got a return invite.
Video: Alabama visits White House
He started every game at left tackle last season as a sophomore, helping an offense that averaged more than 226 yards on the ground and 216 yards through the air. He's being mentioned as an All-American candidate and a potential Top 5 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
This fall, Kouandjio, who is listed at 6-6 and 310 pounds, with only 16% body fat, will get a chance to play on the same line as his older brother Arie for the first time since the two were paired at DeMatha. Arie started out at practice at left guard, alongside his younger brother, but was recently moved to right tackle.
"He's my best friend off the field," Cyrus says. "We've been through thick and thin."
The thin came in 2011, when both players suffered season-ending knee injuries within days of each other and turned their sibling rivalry into who could recover faster.
"All that time training and doing the rehab together is what forged us," Kouandjio said. "We got real close. I can't imagine how it will be playing with Arie in a game. I hope it will be a pleasant experience. When you get in the fire of battle, you never know how you will react."
Growing up, football was not emphasized in the Kouandjio household. Their father, Jean-Claude, the CEO of Fourth Dimension Technology in Jessup, Md., was born in Cameroon and emphasized academics over sports. In the past few years, however, he's learned a lot of football.
"He surprises me," Cyrus says. "He used to not even go to my games in high school. He didn't see a future in football. Now, when I come home, my parents talk football. I'm flabbergasted."
At times last season, Kouandjio was dominant. In the Tennessee game, he graded 94 percent. Against Notre Dame, he graded at 91 percent, with three pancake blocks, including one of Irish defensive end Sheldon Day that put Day on his back.
"That was a successful block," Kouandjio says. "A successful block is one of the best feelings in the world. You can feel the air go out of their chest."
On the rare occasion that Kouandjio gets beat, he promises to temper his reactions this year.
"When I get beat, the next play, I usually come out mad and pumped up and too hyped," he says. "I have learned to calm down and focus on assignments and technique the next time."
Kouandjio's Facebook page, entitled CKservesChrist, frequently speaks to his religious beliefs, where he throws in psalm verses along with football talk. Sometimes the two mix, as when he talks about what happened to him in Alabama's spring game. He said he was leg whipped and felt the same pain he had when he tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus against Tennessee when he was a freshman.
"I got the same burning sensation," he says. "I could even see the injury this time. The trainers were getting ready to run onto the field, but I stood up and the injury was gone. I don't know what it was, but I said a prayer and I am a man of faith."