Penn State Nittany Lions: Curtis Cothran


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Most Penn State players reacted with a stunned silence when told of the news that their head coach, Bill O'Brien, was heading to the NFL's Houston Texans.

The story broke about 90 minutes before the new year, and most players were either with friends or on their way to parties. Linebacker Brandon Bell was driving when he answered his buzzing cell phone.

"It's official?" he asked at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night. "I don't have much to say. ... Yeah, I guess I'm surprised."

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Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsBill OBrien's departure caught Bill Belton and his teammates by surprise, but the players feel Penn State will be just fine moving forward.
He paused a few seconds and then continued on: "You can't worry about what you can't control. We got to do what we got to do."

Fifteen minutes later and defensive end C.J. Olaniyan said he hadn't heard anything about O'Brien heading elsewhere either. He seemed just as off-guard and even a bit reticent to believe the breaking story.

"Like I said, I haven't heard anything," Olaniyan said. "But no matter what happens, Penn State has shown -- everybody's shown -- that we're going to keep striving forward. No matter what happens."

The overwhelming sentiment from players on Tuesday and Wednesday was one of surprise, but not of betrayal. Their emotions were mixed but not polar -- they felt disappointed, but they were happy for their head coach. They seemed down, but they spoke with conviction about their university and the next season.

"As long as we have each other," wideout Jake Kiley said Wednesday, referring to his teammates, "we'll be fine. I think everyone's in the same mind-set."

Tailback Bill Belton wanted to enjoy the new year, forget about the coaching change and deal with it later. Wideout Allen Robinson hung up as soon as O'Brien's name was mentioned. Offensive guard John Urschel took to Twitter to congratulate his head coach.

Different players reacted differently. But everyone seemed to agree that Penn State's certainly been through worse, and that it would emerge once again just fine.

Those same players who congratulated their head coach first met O'Brien in January 2012 when the relative unknown landed in Happy Valley and told the media he was "thrilled to be the head football coach," months before the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions against the school. O'Brien asked players for their commitment, their loyalty, and they overwhelmingly surrendered it.

Eugene Lewis, now a rising redshirt sophomore, was one of those players. The coveted four-star recruit arrived on campus a few weeks before those sanctions, and he could've chosen to transfer elsewhere without penalty. But he decided to stick with O'Brien in Happy Valley.

And, even now, Lewis doesn't regret his decision. Even now, he bristled at feeling even the slightest twinge of betrayal by his old coach.

"That's a strong word because you have to look at it from his point of view," Lewis said Wednesday. "He came into a position that was hard for his family, with the sanctions that we got. You have to look at what he did and how he did all he could. You can't really be mad at him for leaving after two years. I still really respect him."

Lewis was at a friend's house, watching ESPN, when he discovered the news of O'Brien's departure. His phone buzzed with calls and texts from his teammates shortly before midnight. They agreed they'd enjoy the night and then just see what happens.

But Lewis was adamant, whomever the next head coach turns out to be, that he'll still be all-in.

"At the end of the day, we all know we're family and we all know we still have to go out there and play for our school," he said. "You have to be able to fight through adversity, and this is just another obstacle. I'm not mad at Coach O'Brien, I'm happy with what he's done for me and this university.

"I know my team and everyone else there at Penn State -- everyone -- is going to be behind us, and we're going to greet the next coach the same way we greeted Coach O'Brien."

Defensive end Curtis Cothran echoed Lewis' words and succinctly summed up the message from Penn State's players: "We're going to be OK."
As part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will preview a different position leading up to the season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31. Up today: Defensive ends.

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Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsPenn State's Deion Barnes is primed for a big season.
Projected starters: Deion Barnes (2012 stats: 26 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, six sacks, three forced fumbles) and C.J. Olaniyan (2012 stats: 15 tackles, one sack, one start).

Key losses: Sean Stanley (2012 stats: 35 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, four sacks) and Pete Massaro (2012 stats: eight tackles, one tackle for loss, five starts).

Next in line: Anthony Zettel will see increased time this season as the top backup in the rotation. He's slightly bigger than Olaniyan (6-4, 258 compared to 6-3, 244) and he finished third on the team in sacks last fall with four.

DE Brad Bars is lost for the season, so that means defensive coordinator John Butler will have to turn to some more inexperienced players to back up those three. Evan Schwan is at the top of the list after redshirting last season, and true freshman Garrett Sickels could also compete for immediate playing time. Sickels was the top defensive recruit of the 2013 class and is already more physically imposing than Schwan.

What to expect: These defensive ends should have no problems with the pass rush. DL coach Larry Johnson has routinely put together lines that finish in the Top 25 in sacks, and both ends are quick, athletic players. Barnes was named Big Ten freshman of the year, and Olaniyan will bat down his fair share of passes this season.

PSU finished 15th in the nation in sacks (34) in 2012, and that number should be pretty similar this season. Barnes should even increase his numbers a bit. That being said, the pass rush is clearly the ends' forte here. Barnes worked on developing his run-stopping skills this offseason because he admitted that was one part of his game that needs to get better.

Last season, the ends struggled at times with keeping runs to the outside bottled up. Still, PSU's run defense wasn't a consistent issue last year -- and it shouldn't be a big one for the ends this year. Run defense just doesn't appear to be as big of a strength as the pass rush.

Recruiting trail: Penn State brought in two defensive ends -- Sickels and Curtis Cothran -- in the 2013 class, so it's not expected to take any in this 2014 class. The 2015 class, however, is another story.

Darius Fullwood (Olney, Md./Good Counsel) impressed the staff during a June camp and already has a PSU offer next to his name. O'Brien spoke to the defensive end on June 8 and already told him the staff could foresee him playing early at PSU. He's No. 225 on the ESPN Junior 300, and he'll be one player the staff keeps a close eye on.

Best-case scenario: Barnes posts Aaron Maybin-like numbers and gains national recognition after a strong rookie debut, while Olaniyan proves he's slightly better than the Massaro-Stanley combination from a year ago.

Worst-case scenario: Injuries plague the line, and Schwan or Sickels are forced to see more action than they usually would. The rush defense becomes the biggest issue of the front seven, and that throws the entire defense off kilter.

Top position question: How good can Barnes be? Well, after just one season, it's pretty clear Barnes has a future in the NFL. He's one of the top overall players on this team, and it's scary to think he has three seasons left.

His parents said, prior to last season, he aimed for 13 sacks. "And when he didn't get that, he was disappointed," his mother said. And reaching double-digit sacks this season is a possibility.

But let's get right to the heart of the question. Barnes has the ability to go down as one of PSU's best pass-rushers of the 2000s. And, if he does reach 10 sacks this season, the record-breaking chatter will undoubtedly start. Courtney Brown holds the school record with 33 sacks; Barnes will need to average nine sacks over the next three seasons -- if he doesn't declare early for the NFL draft -- to tie that record. It's possible.

After all, by Barnes' count, he should've had 10 sacks last year anyway. Regardless of the numbers he winds up with, he's arguably the top pass-rusher in the conference already. And he'll only get better.

Early look at Purdue Boilermakers 

July, 31, 2013
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Every day this week, NittanyNation will continue taking a closer look at a different game this season and how the matchup stacks up for PSU. Up today: Purdue.

Darrell Hazell finished last season with one of the nation's most impressive coaching performances, leading Kent State to an 11-win season and coming within a heartbeat of an Orange Bowl berth.

Purdue's new head coach will need another one of the country's best performances just to get the Boilermakers into a bowl.

Hazell will need to break in a new quarterback and a new stable of receivers. Purdue will need to replace its best defensive player in DT Kawann Short. And it will need to fight past a tough non-conference slate that includes Cincinnati and Notre Dame.

Hazell's up for the challenge, but make no mistake about it: This is a rebuilding season for the Boilermakers. Hazell turned around a struggling Kent State squad from 5-7 in his debut season to 11-3 in Year 2. This will probably be a similar first season for Hazell record-wise, and there'll be plenty of bumps along the way.

Every week, NittanyNation will pose five questions to a recruit, player, alum or coach about all things Penn State.

This week's subject is Brandon McIlwain, a 2016 quarterback out of Newtown (Pa.) Council Rock North who's also one of PSU's early targets at the position. He attended a one-day PSU camp last month.

NittanyNation: You've been to a few camps this summer: PSU, South Carolina, Temple, Rutgers. So, tell me, how did PSU's camp stack up against those? How was it different?


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Yes, ESPN's top-rated 2013 passer in Christian Hackenberg is on campus. And, yes, one of the nation's top 2014 QBs in Michael O'Connor will enroll in January.

But who comes next?

NittanyNation decided to take a closer look at five 2015 and 2016 signal-callers that PSU is targeting right now:


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Defensive end Curtis Cothran (Newtown, Pa./Council Rock North) won't graduate high school until June 19, and he's set to report to campus by June 22.

NittanyNation recently caught up with the three-star signee to ask about his expectations, what PSU players he plans to keep a close eye on and what he thinks about the defense.


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5 three-star PSU commits to watch 

February, 12, 2013
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Zayd IssahTom Hauck/ESPNHSZayd Issah is a local product who could do a lot in his career at Penn State.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Some of the Nittany Lions' top players right now were three-star recruits who flew just under the radar: Deion Barnes, Adrian Amos, Mike Hull, Kyle Carter. And the list goes on.

The Class of 2013 looks to continue that trend. NittanyNation decided to take a closer look at some three-star players in this class whom fans should keep an eye on.


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Now that Penn State's Class of 2013 is officially in the books, we decided to ask the commits about their future with the Nittany Lions.

NittanyNation posed the same question to everyone: How do you think -- or hope -- your class will be remembered in four or five years?

Here's what they had to say:


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O'Brien talks about 2013 signees 

February, 6, 2013
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Coaches aren't able to talk about individual recruits until they sign their letters of intent. Here's how Penn State coach Bill O'Brien responded to questions about them Wednesday:


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NittanyNation signing day recap

February, 6, 2013
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Signing day has gone smoothly in Happy Valley.

Here's a recap of how the letters of intent came in and how the class came together in Penn State's Class of 2013.

Follow the live blog after the jump.

(Read full post)

Polling the commits: Why choose PSU? 

February, 6, 2013
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Christian HackenbergMiller Safrit/ESPN.comThe nation's No. 1 pro-style quarterback, Christian Hackenberg, felt a special bond with Penn State. Sixteen other prospects have also made that bond with the Nittany Lions.
Penn State's Class of 2013 ranks among the top 25 in the nation, and it's been one of the more surprising stories of the recruiting season. These prospects could've gone elsewhere -- some could've attended anywhere -- but they stuck with the Nittany Lions.

They'll officially become part of Penn State today. So, we asked them, why did you want to commit Penn State? Here's what they had to say this week:

  • QB Christian Hackenberg, Fork Union, Va./Fork Union, four stars, No. 15 in ESPN 150: "You know, I just got this gut feeling that it was home for me. Everything fell in line for me moreso than the other schools. I liked a lot of other schools, but I loved Penn State."


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Coach talk: DE Curtis Cothran 

January, 29, 2013
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What kind of player is Penn State getting here in Curtis Cothran? And what can fans expect?


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Lions spotlight: Curtis Cothran 

January, 24, 2013
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Every weekday until signing day, NittanyNation will break down a commitment from Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Defensive end Curtis Cothran, Newtown, Pa./Council Rock North, 6-foot-5, 240 pounds

Committed: March 26, 2012

ESPN.com grade: 70. Three-star prospect.

ESPN.com rankings: No. 110 at position, No. 204 in region, No. 49 in state.

Picked Penn State over: Maryland, Rutgers, Syracuse and others.


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Ted Roof's surprise resignation Wednesday won't send this defense reeling, in part, because John Butler is a fiery, competent coach. But his departure will definitely be felt in one key department -- recruiting.

Roof was Penn State's pipeline to the South, a man whose reputation commanded the attention of recruits, especially those in Georgia and Alabama. With his absence, so goes an important part of that pipeline.

Historically, the coaching staff hasn't ventured farther south than Virginia, so Penn State wasn't a favorite among recruits unaccustomed to building snowmen. Most didn't see the university as an option -- until Roof showed up.

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Recruits weren't hearing any rumors about the possible departure of defensive coordinator Ted Roof, and when it was learned he was leaving for Georgia Tech, it made at least one Penn State pledge think twice about his commitment.

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