SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Curtis Cothran is an African-American man from Philadelphia who grew up in the shadow of Penn State football.
Parker Cothren is a white man from a mid-sized city in northern Alabama, a prospect who never gave Penn State much thought until he received a scholarship offer.
They consider themselves brothers.
Their last names are different by one letter, and their backgrounds are polar opposites. But Saturday, when No. 9 Penn State attempts to slow No. 11 Washington’s relentless rushing attack in the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium, the first line of defense will be the two defensive tackles who forged a lifetime bond with the help of a similar last name.
“I’ve never met anybody (outside of my family) named Cothran, even though it’s an ‘an’ and an ‘en.’ ” Curtis Cothran laughed. “Even though its an ‘an’ and an ‘en,’ just to have those similar names was crazy. It definitely got the conversation going. ... He’s literally my brother now. We met freshman year, and you would never think a kid from south Philly could be best friends with a kid from Alabama. But that’s the way it is.”
Cothran and Cothren joined the Penn State program as members of the 2013 recruiting class, and even though Parker Cothren started his career as a nose tackle, Curtis Cothran didn’t move alongside him to defensive tackle until last season. Since, they’ve been the inside force on a stout Penn State defensive line against the run. This season, they combined for 42 tackles, 4½ sacks and five quarterback hurries for a team that ranked 16th in the nation against the run.
Theirs is a relationship, though, that has extended far beyond football.
Their families became tight, talking to each other often during games and staying in touch during the offseason. It’s not uncommon, both said, to find out that Parker’s father and Curtis’ father have had a long phone conversation. Which, coincidentally enough, means Greg Cothren in Alabama, calling Greg Cothran in Philadelphia, long distance.
Curtis remembered going to Parker’s dorm room on Sunday mornings, routinely, to wake him up by turning on Eagles games, a tradition he considered fun but Parker, not quite as much. That would turn into a day-long hangout that helped forge what they both consider a lifelong bond.
“We instantly had something to talk about, and we hit it off right off the bat,” Parker Cothren said. “We do everything together. We will forever.”