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Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Cothren sticks with the plan in signing

By Josh Moyer

No Penn State commit's loyalty was tested more than Parker Cothren (Hazel Green, Ala./Hazel Green).

The Alabama boy with the southern drawl grew up less than a three-hour drive from Tuscaloosa. Visions of the SEC once danced in his head at night and, during the day, it wouldn't be uncommon for him to step on the school bus while wearing a gray "Roll Tide" T-shirt.

SEC schools such as Auburn, Tennessee and Vanderbilt tried their best to persuade Cothren to decommit from Penn State. They called, they visited -- then did it all again ... and again -- but the defensive tackle stood nearly as firm as his Hazel Green Trojans' offensive line.

And, on Wednesday morning at 9:42 a.m., on national signing day, Cothren tossed his childhood dreams aside and made his commitment official. Instead of looking to the past, he's looking to the future. Instead of the SEC, he'll be in the Big Ten -- playing for the Nittany Lions.

"I already decommitted from Purdue, but that was because of a coaching change -- so I feel it was justified a little bit," Cothren said. "I really didn't want to decommit again because it was hard for me to do that the first time. But that was a little reason. I really just loved Penn State."

"Plus," he added with a laugh, "I already have a ton of Penn State gear now. I got hooked up for Christmas."

Cothren admits his commitment to the Nittany Lions didn't always stand at 100 percent. Like nearly any player in his position, he had his doubts. He wrestled with thoughts about playing closer to home, about competing in the top conference in the country.

And those SEC schools, most intent on adding a sleeper to their classes, didn't wait for Cothren's thoughts to sort themselves out. Auburn showed up at his basketball game a day or two after defensive coordinator Ted Roof's resignation. The staff offered after watching Cothren, the center, dismantle Bob Jones 66-52. Vanderbilt then sent three coaches to woo Cothren and passionately explain why the Commodores were the smarter choice over the Nittany Lions.

Cothren labeled the first few weeks of January a "hectic" time period, as he'd often get pulled out of class by visiting coaches and seemingly field calls every day. He stopped answering his phone for a little while.

But Cothren said he became convinced that Penn State was the right place, that he should play there in spite of the sanctions, during an in-home visit by the Nittany Lions, which took place days after those SEC schools contacted him.

Defensive coordinator John Butler and defensive line coach Larry Johnson sat in the basketball bleachers in Huntsville, Ala., to watch Cothren's team take on Butler just three days after Auburn's visit. The pair, both wearing dapper suits, stuck out from the T-shirt and jeans crowd. But Cothren wasn't sure if they were wearing any Penn State apparel. People probably didn't know who they were.

They retreated to his sister's home after the 55-53 win because it was closer. Cothren took a seat on the couch, while Johnson pulled up a kitchen chair and sat directly across from him. "It couldn't get more serious," Cothren said of the atmosphere.

They reminded him of Penn State's academics and the fan base. They even designed a slideshow for Cothren. But the 6-foot-5, 265-pound prospect took away two key elements from that visit -- enough that convinced him that State College, a place an average of 17 degrees colder in February, was right for him. He'd tell all the opposing coaches the next day, on Jan. 15, that he was 100 percent committed to PSU.

As he tried his best to relax on that couch, Johnson pulled out a small booklet for Cothren. It was a four-year plan designed just for him. Penn State's coach told Cothren that Jordan Hill, an undersized player who'll undoubtedly play on Sundays, received a similar booklet. And Hill met all his goals.

At the end of the coaches' pitch, Johnson turned to him. "Parker," Cothren remembered him asking, "do you want to be great?"

Cothren, still in his sweatsuit following the basketball game, escorted the two outside to their car. But, before they stepped inside, he stopped them to answer that final question.

"Right before he got in his car, I told him I do," he said. "I told him I do want to be great. And, well, he said, 'Great.'

"I'll admit it, my dream growing up was to play SEC football. But when it came down to it, I had to think about what was best for me, and I felt Penn State was a better place for me. After that, that's when I told all these schools I wasn't interested."

Auburn backed down, but the Commodores' staff didn't relent. They visited him again last Thursday and urged him to visit Nashville, Tenn., over the weekend. He instead traveled to Penn State with his mother, sister and girlfriend.

He knew Happy Valley was the right place for him. And he wanted those close to him to see what he saw. He wanted them to know why he ditched those Alabama T-shirts for Penn State hoodies.

"I did grow up as an Alabama fan," he said. "But that changed this year.

"Instead of watching Alabama, I would watch Penn State. I can't even remember the last time I wore an Alabama T-shirt, I don't even know. ... I'm committed."