Council Rock North High School football coach Adam Collachi thought he had something pretty good in lineman Curtis Cothran.
He didn't fully grasp how special, though, until a game against Bensalem.
"He probably ran parallel to the line of scrimmage for about 25 yards and made a tremendous play to stop a pretty good athlete for about a 2-yard loss. That's when I knew how good he really can be,'' Collachi said. "My old college coach [from West Chester] was there, and he said, 'Tell me a little bit more about this kid, because he's a freak of nature.'
"He called me a little later and said, 'I don't think you know what you've got on your hands,' and I said, 'Well, I think we do now.'''
Penn State's coaching staff apparently does, too. Although the Nittany Lions were involved with some of the biggest-name defensive ends in the country, they invited Cothran for a March 26 unofficial visit, a day after which the 6-foot-5, 235-pound junior soon committed.
He's expected to be among about a half-dozen current Lion recruits on hand for Saturday's Blue-White Game in what will be just his second time to Penn State.
"It did move pretty fast,'' Cothran said of his recruiting and decision to go to Penn State. "I'd get a letter here and there from them. When I went up there and they offered me, it was pretty obvious I wanted to go there. The coaching staff was just awesome. Everyone I talked to seemed to be looking for the best of my interests. Plus, from a personal standpoint, I've been watching Penn State my whole life, especially being from PA. It was kind of a trip.''
Cothran, whose recruitment was handled by John Butler, picked the Lions over Rutgers and Maryland. He said he had "seven or eight" scholarship offers, and Boston College, Syracuse, UConn, Temple, Northwestern, Purdue and Virginia were some of the other schools involved.
In Cothran, Penn State appears to have gotten a player with outstanding athletic ability which defensive line coach Larry Johnson can mold. Cothran said he has run the 40-yard dash in around 4.7 seconds. Before he gave up track and field to focus on training for football, he competed in the unusual event combination of the 100- and 200-meter dashes, the discus and the shot put.
"Athletically, he's tremendously gifted. His size and speed are something special,'' Collachi said. "He projects to put on 30 or 40 more pounds. His explosiveness and athletic ability really attracted the colleges.''
A two-way starter his last 20 games for Council Rock North, Cothran had 43 tackles, five sacks, caused two fumbles and blocked a kick for the Indians, who play him as a strong-side end in their 4-4 alignment. While those statistics might not be eye-popping, Collachi says the numbers are deceiving.
"I think there are three teams in our league that run at most four times per game, so his sack numbers aren't going to be that high,'' Collachi said. "He's strong at the point of attack, and he's a big reason for the improvement in our defense.''
Council Rock North allowed 18.3 points per game.
Collachi said Cothran's athletic ability was apparent when he was a freshman, but it was Cothran's willingness to work and try to improve that made him think it was worth it to throw him into the fire of the rugged suburban Philadelphia Class AAAA schedule as a sophomore. A self-described "die-hard Eagles fan,'' Cothran is critical of his own game and knows there are areas where he can improve; he likes to watch Julius Peppers to try to pick up little things to make himself better.
"I think my strength is my speed and my ability to change direction,'' Cothran said. "I think I have to work on my hand placement and just keeping linemen off me. I have long arms, and once I'm able able to master the best way to use my hands, keep full extension and keep linemen off me, the better I'll be.''
Cothran, who plans to major in kinesiology, only has been playing organized football since seventh grade - "I was always beating up people playing in the backyard, but I didn't know anything about Pop Warner football.''
Although Penn State likely would sign California's Eddie Vanderdoes or Virginia's Jonathan Allen in the event either of those blue-chip prospects picked it, the Lions appear to have filled their allotment of defensive end scholarship openings with Cothran and New Jersey's Garrett Sickels. Penn State also has a defensive line commitment from four-star New Jersey tackle Greg Webb.