A few soccer players from the state of Alabama met with reporters ahead of the Iron Bowl this week.
Defensive lineman DJ Dale grew up outside of Birmingham but was more of a Texas fan as a youngster. Kicker Will Reichard over in Hoover idolized Tim Tebow, so he was a Florida fan.
But down in Phenix City, Javion Cohen has a more complex relationship with the two powers that be. The offensive lineman was signed to Auburn before the scholarship offer was reportedly withdrawn as he said he was still considering the Crimson Tide. He signed with Alabama just days after announcing his flip in December 2019.
So things were complicated for the left wingman of the tide from the start when he entered his second Iron Bowl as a starter.
And it’s hard to find another player in the current rosters who has embraced the gameplay of this rivalry.
As Saturday’s 2:30pm CT opener draws closer, Cohen reasonably answered questions about his story on Tuesday.
It started with a question about its history as the Auburn Commitment and the importance it holds.
“It’s a huge game, not just for me, but for this entire facility, for the entire state of Alabama,” said Cohen. “Everyone knows the impact of this game, regardless of the record, regardless of where we are. We all know this is a game you want to win. This is a resume game. And I plan to fight as hard as I can and try to help myself and my teammates get back to the Alabama standard this week and finish 1-0.
The grin on his face said more than maybe his words.
Just rewind the tape 11 months for more context. In December 2021, Auburn suffered a heartbreaking 24-22 Iron Bowl loss while preparing for the Birmingham Bowl. Alabama turned that win at Jordan-Hare into a then-No. 1 Georgia excitement in the SEC title game, so the Crimson Tide braced itself for Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl semifinals.
Cohen apparently didn’t forget to insult Auburn players who poked fun at Alabama’s Crimson Crane touchdown celebration during the game a few weeks earlier. So he drove to Hoover High School, where Auburn was training, and posted a since-deleted picture of himself in the crane pose facing tiger training.
Asked about that, Cohen was diplomatic again.
“The story of this rivalry is something that will continue whether I’m here or going and that’s just part of it,” he said. “Of course it would be advisable to show some sportiness. This is a new year, a new season and I’m just ready to end the week 1-0.
He smiled again as he discussed the intensity of last year’s game at Auburn. Alabama was in deep trouble before a fourth-quarter drive forced overtime.
It was that post-regulation moment that stuck with Cohen.
“We were all on the sidelines, us and Auburn, and they were playing music in the stadium, and all I remember is our entire leadership group bringing that energy to the sidelines,” Cohen said. “Those are the things you look for when you see a rivalry and I expect this game to be no different.”
Cohen struggled to recall the song being pumped through the packed stadium.
“I think it was a waka flocka, really, really,” he said. “I don’t know. I don’t even remember. I only remember that my hind legs were tired because I jumped for two minutes and then had to get out straight away. Yeah, that wasn’t a good plan.”
Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.