One year ago Curtis Cothran weighed barely 260 pounds and he was just making the switch.
Recruited to Penn State out of Council Rock North (Pa.) as a defensive end, he spent his first three seasons on campus at that position, appearing in 14 games. Last spring, however, he and the coaches agreed that it could be mutually beneficial to both Cothran and the defensive line unit to move inside to defensive tackle.
He went on to appear in 10 games as a redshirt junior and started the final eight. All the while he was settling into a new position, improving as the season went along.
With a full year to focus on the new spot – and to bulk up – Cothran has high hopes for his final season of eligibility in 2017. He reports to weigh 290 pounds currently and he set multiple personal records in the weight room this winter, including a power clean of 355 pounds.
"I'm definitely making strides," he said Tuesday morning on a conference call with reporters. "There's obviously different things (that he's working to improve on) like taking on double teams and those types of things that I had to get used to last year on the fly, but I feel definitely the thing I'm adjusting and honing in on is my skills and my techniques. Little intricate things, little things that I might not have noticed that I was doing before that I needed to correct are things that I'm working on now in spring ball to hopefully bring my game to the next level."
All of that started as soon as the Rose Bowl concluded, in which Cothran finished with three tackles. In fact, over the course of the final three games of the 2017 season Cothran amassed more than half of his total tackle numbers on the year. Against Michigan State, Wisconsin and USC, he combined for 12 tackles; he finished with 21 on the year.
He used that late-season momentum as a spring board into winter workouts. He has packed on almost 30 pounds from a year ago and at least five from when the season ended.
He has also spent extra time in the film room, self-scouting as well as reviewing game tape from others in order to further polish his transition from being an outside pass-rushing end to an every-down three-technique tackle.
"I feel my off-season has gone pretty well," Cothran said. "Lifting-wise I've been hitting new PRs in certain areas, and feel like my body is nice healthy and I feel great. I feel my off-season has been pretty good. As far as things improving, it's just film study. It's things like that: my keys, checking my keys and being able to split double teams and attacking the right man. Those types of things. More technique than anything."
Those are things he wants to change. Otherwise, he's hoping to maintain the same approach and demeanor on the field that he hopes he had displayed with regularity throughout the season.
This time, as he gets closer to the 300-pound mark and settles more into DT after one full season under his belt, he wants to take it to another level.
"I just want to be known as a guy who goes hard all the time, gives his heart and good effort during the play and willing to lay his body on the line for the guys next to me," he said. "That's really all it comes down to. I mean, I feel that last year was a great year, but it was the first time I really played like that. I just want the fans to know there shouldn't be a falloff at all. That's definitely what I really I want to prove. It's more just proving to the guys next to me that I'm wiling to put my body on the line for them."