Former Alabama starting offensive lineman Javion Cohen was a true freshman in 2020 when Alabama won the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship against Ohio State.
The venue: Hard Rock Stadium, home of the University of Miami — and now the home of Cohen, 20, who became a Hurricane after he announced his transfer in December. Oddly enough, Cohen’s Crimson Tide practiced for the title game in UM’s indoor practice facility, and on Tuesday, during his first chat with the Miami media, Cohen recalled a moment there.
“I actually remember standing right over there under that U,” he said, gazing toward the massive, neon orange-and-green U affixed to the wall in the facility, where players and coaches do their post-practice interviews. “We were in here practicing, prepping for that game and it was just a surreal feeling. I remember telling myself that same day that ‘Wow! it must be awesome to practice here!’
“Feeling that now.”
Cohen, a 6-4, 305-pound left guard from Phenix City, Alabama, was a second-team All-SEC honoree who has two years of eligibility remaining, but would enter the 2024 NFL Draft if circumstances allow. For now, though, he is thrilled about being a Hurricane on an offensive line that, thanks to elite transfers, signees and existing standouts, could grow into one of the nation’s finest.
Cohen said “the people” at UM, including head coach Mario Cristobal and O-line coach Alex Mirabal, “really drew me in close. .Everybody has a collective goal, which is getting the U back to its standard.
“...Everything around here is perfect.’’
The recent first-team offensive line after seven of 15 spring practice sessions, which conclude with the April 14 spring game: 6-5, 330-pound fourth-year sophomore left tackle Jalen Rivers; fourth-year junior Cohen; 6-4, 295-pound fifth-year junior standout UCF transfer center Matt Lee; 6-4, 330-pound second-year sophomore right guard Anez Cooper; and 6-6, 315-pound five-star early enrollee freshman Francis Mauigoa —the nation’s No. 1 rated incoming offensive tackle.
And that’s not including 6-6, 300-pound fellow five-star early-enrollee freshman tackle Samson Okunlola; 6-3, 300-pound freshman Antonio Tripp; and senior tackle Zion Nelson, a former starter who is sitting out spring after missing most of last season with knee/physical ailments.
“They’re freakish,’’ Cohen said of the freshmen. “They’re very advanced for their age. Samson’s technique is very close to being pro. I tell him that almost every day, which is why I’m on his tail a lot. I want him to be great. [Mauigoa] is a dog with a great mentality. Tripp has a big base. He’s a hard worker as well. Those guys really want to be something special here. They came here for a reason, which is to turn the U around. That’s very inspiring to see. It’s great to have young kids.”
Asked about NFL prospect Lee and his leadership, Cohen said, ‘Oh, that dude is a wizard, man. So much education nationally. ...He has seen a lot. There are certain things he’ll call that we’ll be on the same page, and certain things he’ll see and I’ll be like, ‘Wow! How did you even see that?’
“Just being around somebody with that kind of experience and drive and effort... I was on his case [during] recruiting and was trying to get him here. I’m very happy he listened.”
Cohen added that Rivers “is an NFL tackle’’ and UM’s offensive line talent is “not far off’’ from when he played at Alabama. “We have a lot to grow together because that last spot I was with had chemistry. ...Once we jell together and get our chemistry right it will be on point... Times come, times go. I feel like we’re back on the rise now.’’
The 247Sports recruiting site previously had Cohen as the No. 8 player and top offensive line in its transfer rankings. He started 10 games last season and played 554 snaps, with 17 knockdown blocks, 1 1/2 sacks allowed, four pressures, four quarterback hits and three penalties, according to the Alabama website.
In 2021 he started 14 games for Bama’s No. 6 scoring offense, No. 7 passing offense and No. 5 red zone offense.
On Tuesday, Cohen called Cristobal “my guy,’’ saying the two have a special connection and that it’s “really awesome’’ Cristobal is a former offensive lineman. He also said new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson’s “is very special and you all will love it.
“I promise you.’’
Cristobal appears equally enamored of Cohen.
“He’s a huge acquisition,’’ the coach said. “We really wanted to continue to develop our players at that position, but also increase the level of size, girth, explosiveness, strength at the point of attack and power. He’s got a ton of experience playing at the University of Alabama. He’s just an awesome guy to be around because he has great energy, works hard and lets you push him hard.
“He’s very, very smart, naturally just blended in right away and also has really good leadership skills. So we’re expecting big things from him. ...Javion comes from a place where the culture has been in place for a while. And we’re coming into a place where every single day, we want to work on improving our culture. It’s very helpful because he understands that blueprint. He’s great to be around.”
Cristobal spoke for the first time about UM senior quality control analyst Cody Woodiel, a former Oregon offensive analyst under Cristobal, being promoted to tight ends coach for the Hurricanes — though the head coach never said the words “tight ends coach.’’
Current UM tight ends coach Stephen Field, who joined the UM staff before 2019 season, will stay in the program in a prominent recruiting role. Cristobal said Field “has done an awesome job here” and that Field will have “a very pivotal role that puts him at the executive director level involving recruiting [and] football. ..He is a very valued member, and is going to be able to do a whole lot more in his expanded role.’’
Of Woodiel, Cristobal said: “He’s one of the best up-and-coming coaches in the country.’’
LB Mauigoa impresses
When asked Tuesday who impressed him defensively among the newcomers, quarterback Tyler Van Dyke raved about linebacker Francisco Mauigoa, the Washington State University transfer.
“He’s very impressive to me,’’ Van Dyke said. “He’s all over the field. He picked me today, which is good — not good for me, but good to see that for them. It was just a good play in general for him.”
Added Cristobal: “...Kiko [Francisco] Mauigoa’s interception to finish off. That was really impressive.”