Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class is known as the group that didn’t have to come to Happy Valley. They were the first recruits to sign with Penn State after the NCAA levied sanctions in July 2012.
Of the 16 players in that class, five are still at Penn State — and two are best friends playing alongside each other.
Starting defensive tackles Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren are not related, no matter how many fans might do a double-take when glancing at Penn State’s roster. But they still see themselves as brothers.
“Our friendship goes deep,” Cothran said. “Our families are friends. Our parents are friends. His dad and my dad’s first names are both Greg. They’re both Greg Cothran/Cothren. Me and Parker have always been great friends ever since we got on campus. Even though he might be from Alabama and I might be from Pa., it made no difference.”
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Cothran, a Council Rock North product, and Cothren — a native of Huntsville, Ala. — grew up 900 miles apart.
But Cothren and Cothran, along with defensive end Garrett Sickels, stuck together when they arrived at Penn State. The only defensive linemen in that 2013 class, their goal from the time their letters of intent were faxed in was to one day start together.
That dream was achieved last season, when Penn State’s front-four aided the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance.
Sickels moved on to the NFL, but the firm of Cothren and Cothran returned for their final season together.
The duo is producing for Penn State, too, combining for 29 tackles — a good number for a couple interior linemen. Cothran has 2.5 sacks through seven games, while Cothren picked up his first of the year against Michigan.
“They’ve heard a thousand coaching points from coach (Sean) Spencer and a thousand coaching points from coach (Brent) Pry and watched a bunch of film and been in tough games,” head coach James Franklin said of the two. “Experience counts.”
And now more than ever, with only five regular season games left, Cothran and Cothren are enjoying their remaining experiences, together.
“You’ve got your best friend next to you,” Cothran said. “It’s definitely one of the most fun parts about playing.”
Ohio State had three members of its 2016 secondary — Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley — get selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL draft.
It hasn’t necessarily devastated the Buckeyes’ pass defense, though. While it’s not a highly touted secondary, Ohio State’s back-end can (kind of) hold its own.
The Buckeyes have allowed 195.7 passing yards per game this season, ranking 37th nationally. However, that number is a little funky.
In Ohio State’s opener, it let up 420 passing yards to Indiana. A week later, Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma came to The Shoe and popped the Buckeyes for 386 yards and three throwing scores.
Since then, the Buckeyes have gone on a five-game winning streak against Army (19 passing yards), UNLV (92), Rutgers (88), Maryland (16) and Nebraska (349).
With the stats all over the place, film might be a better indicator as to what this Ohio State secondary brings to the table.
Despite losing Conley, Hooker and Lattimore to the NFL, Penn State wideout Juwan Johnson said he learned, “That they’re really athletic. That it seems like that haven’t missed much of a beat. They’re still guys that can still go to the NFL.”
Tight end Mike Gesicki saw that the Buckeyes will “sprinkle in a few different coverages throughout the game,” with man-to-man, Cover 3 and Cover 4 all showing up on tape.
He noticed the athleticism that Johnson mentioned, too.
“They have tremendous speed in that secondary,” Gesicki said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us.”
“You see the videos of him dancing, clowning around, having fun. That’s something that for a while, we were missing. We didn’t have anyone to joke around with or bring up the energy in the locker room in a more positive way. He’s done that for us. On the field, he’s running around and having a good time. He just brings good vibes and good energy. ... I’m so glad he’s on our team.” — Cothran, on senior safety Marcus Allen