Arie Kouandjio was one of the nation’s top recruits at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland when he accepted a scholarship offer to play at Alabama beginning with the 2010 season. Earlier this month, his football journey took him back home when he was drafted in the fourth round, 112th overall, by the Washington Redskins. Kouandjio recently spoke with The Washington Times about his reaction to being drafted, his time at Alabama and his goals while playing for the Redskins.
Question: When you’re sitting at home and watching the draft on TV, and the Redskins end up being the team that picks you, to be able to stay close to home, was that special to you?
Answer: It felt pretty good. You know, a lot of people in my family are big Redskins fans, obviously, because I grew up here and stuff like that. The house just exploded entirely. Everybody was happy. I think my brother [Cyrus, a left tackle chosen in the first round by Buffalo last year] made the comment that he appreciates this rather than me going in the first round anywhere else, you know? It’s a big blessing. I thank God for the opportunities that He has given me, and I’m just following his will.
Q: Your brother’s on the schedule this year, too.
A: Yes, sir.
Q: Will that be something special for you?
A: Oh, sure. I mean, I get to see him; however, we’re not on the same field at the same time.
Q: What’s the biggest goal at rookie minicamp? What was it you were trying to accomplish?
A: Get better is one of my goals. I kind of cut everything out and I just focus on whatever they tell me. Win, lose or draw, I’m just trying to do whatever the coaches are instructing me to do.
Q: You were a left guard last season at Alabama. Are you working at left guard or right guard at this point? Or, does it matter?
A: I mean, it’s up to the coaches’ decisions and God’s will. I’m happy to play anywhere.
Q: To go away for college, and now to be able to play at home now, is there a certain appreciation you gained for being able to play near home?
A: It’s amazing being back. It’s almost nostalgic. You know, I get to be around a bunch of friends, family members. Growing up, when I was younger, I didn’t really appreciate being at home, and now that I’m — whenever it was time to go to college, I just picked up my stuff and went. Being at home and being able to do [play here], it’s just an added bonus. I thank God for that opportunity.
Q: What did you learn at Alabama?
A: Toughness, patience. What’d I learn? I learned discipline. I learned commitment. Effort. Pride. Those are like the big things that we harp on, the big things that we focus on, and that’s what I feel I have instilled in me.
Q: You had surgery on your right knee not too long ago, right?
A: Yes, sir.
Q: How’s that all feeling at this point? It’s been a few years, hasn’t it?
A: Yeah, a few years ago. I had both knees [operated on in 2011]. The right knee was more necessary. The left knee was precautionary. It feels great. It feels like a full recovery.
Q: Was it the ACL?
A: The patellar tendons. From what I heard, the guys who make it through the initial stages of my rehab process are usually good. Usually, the tough part about my surgery — you hear about the ACL surgeries, and everybody gets them, but the thing about them is that they come back pretty quick, [and] most people come back after that, but my surgery, sometimes guys don’t come back, but if they do, it’s usually pretty good. There’s only like five athletes who’ve had my surgery in the world, [or] in the country.
Q: Really? So, how did you mentally approach that then?
A: No, I didn’t know that about until about a month ago, until about three months ago. [Laughs] Back then, I didn’t really care. I handed it all to God. Whatever He wanted, and shoot, look where I am now? I went all the way to Alabama, and guess where I am? Right in my backyard. I mean, that sounds like God if anything to me.
Q: You’ve been roommates with top pick Brandon Scherff. What’s that been like?
A: It’s been awesome. I met him before a few times, here and there. He was cool back then, and he’s even cooler now that I get to hang out with him every day and we get to study and we can bounce ideas off each other and bounce concepts off each other. It’s pretty good. The buddy system works a long way.
Q: What have you learned about him in the last week or so?
A: Man, he’s a great guy. I’m here to win a championship, and I think he has that kind of mentality as well. Like-minded individuals make a pretty good team, don’t they?