When the NCAA announced its bowl ban and scholarship restrictions in July, many figured prospects would be jumping off Penn's State's 2013 recruiting class.
The chances that top players who had pledged to other BCS colleges actually would switch to the Nittany Lions instead was considered highly unlikely, if not downright inconceivable. However, that's exactly what Maryland running back Richy Anderson and Alabama defensive lineman Parker Cothren did.
"The sanctions don't matter to me," Anderson told ESPN.com in late October after visiting Penn State for the Ohio State game. "Being in that environment, it just proves it. No, you can't play in a bowl game. And, no, they lost a lot of scholarships - but the tradition and everything is still there. It's not just about football."
Anderson, who played for Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, originally had planned to stay in-state and attend Maryland. Of course, he had deep Penn State roots: his father, Richie Anderson, led the Nittany Lions in rushing in 1991 and 1992 before going on to a long career as a fullback in the NFL.
While the younger Anderson had been linked with the Lions from early on, Cothren, a 6-foot-5, 265-pounder from Hazel Green, only showed up on Penn State's radar shortly before he took an official visit to University Park on the weekend of Nov. 17 and took in the Indiana game. With it becoming apparent Purdue was going to fire coach Danny Hope, he flipped his commitment from Purdue to Penn State three days later.
"All of the schools I had offers from, I don't think most made it a bowl game. And, if they did, they weren't playing in front of a bigger crowd than Penn State sees. A bowl game is like a every other game for Penn State," Cothren, who had other offers from Tulane, South Alabama, Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee State and Troy as well as some SEC interest, told ESPN.com's Josh Moyer. "Just because they can't make a bowl, I was thinking, they still have a stadium that holds 100,000-and-however-many people and they sell out every week. What bowl could you play in front of that would be bigger than that?"
Ironically, it was the second time Cothren had seen Penn State play in person in two weeks. He was a guest of Purdue when the Boilermakers hosted the Lions on Nov. 3.
"I liked everything about [Penn State] - the coaches, the facilities, the trainers, the players. All the players were really cool, and I just liked it. I felt like I fit in. But I went to the stadium and saw the fans and how crazy they acted and how into the game they were, and that's really what made my decision," Cothren said.
Recently, Cothren was named first-team Class 6A all-state. He made 57 tackles, including 15 for losses and four sacks, in making the Huntsville Times Elite first-team for the second straight year in 2012.
Purdue envisioned Cothren as a defensive end, while Penn State likes his potential as a tackle. Some scouting services projected Cothren as an offensive lineman; he was athletic enough to start on a team that made it all the way to the Alabama state finals in basketball as a junior.
"His athleticism is phenomenal," Hazel Green coach Matt Putnam said. "He's got about a 30-inch, 31-inch vertical jump. He's a big athlete."
Cothren, who couldn't be reached by the Mirror, played all along the defensive line, as well as some fullback on offense.
"He was the power-back. He just led through the hole, and he had a few crushing highlights," Putnam said with a laugh. "We did throw the ball to him occasionally, and he's got really good hands. He can catch."
Cothren came up as a sophomore and helped a Trojan football program that only had won four games in the previous five years post three victories.
"We had a [defensive lineman] named T.J. Smith who's playing at Western Kentucky. He was a senior that year. By the end of the year, people weren't running at Parker anymore. At the beginning of the year, they were running away from T.J. By the end of the year, they were running toward him," Putnam said. "He was a dominant player as a sophomore. He was 6-3, 230 then. He's gotten a lot bigger."
Hazel Green has gone 14-7 the last two seasons.
"He's got a great motor. He's a fantastic kid. You never really have to correct him a lot. You tell him what to do one time and he does it and he does it hard," Putnam said. "Huntsville High School has a lineman who's committed to Alabama. We put Parker on him, and Parker did extremely well."
"Guys like Parker, you build your team around."
Anderson also had offers from Rutgers, Boston College, Wake Forest, East Carolina and Temple. The 6-foot, 182-pounder was a key ingredient to Thomas Johnson's run to the Maryland 3A state finals in his junior year, when he combined for nearly 1,400 yards rushing and receiving.
Anderson battled a shoulder injury during his senior year but still managed to rush for 666 yards and six touchdowns on 136 carries and to catch 24 passes for 341 yards and four scores in the Patriots' Pro-Set offense.
Anderson's father was an assistant coach for Thomas Johnson this season, and Patriots coach Ben Wright said the impact of Anderson having a dad who played football at the highest level is evident.
"It's unusual to see high school kids set up defenders when they run their routes. He was very good at that. He'd get that defender to turn and go where he'd want him. He learned that from his dad. He practiced hard, and he's very intense," Wright, who sent several players on to big-time college programs in 27 years as a high school head coach, said. "He's one of the few kids I've coached who sees the field as well as he did. He might be running to his right and break it back to the left. He always keeps his head up and knows how to read the defenses."
Messages left with Anderson by the Mirror were unreturned, but Internet sites that follow Penn State recruiting understand that the Lions will utilize him as an all-purpose back who could line up behind the quarterback or as a slot receiver.
"It's kind of what I always dreamed of, being in college and being a back that plays receiver. It was a really big part of my decision," Anderson said in an interview FightOnState.com's Greg Pickel. "I can move out of the backfield and do different things, go out into the slot, or come back into the backfield and run the ball. Either way, there's always a mismatch. I know a lot of different spots because I run a similar offense in high school."