The piece of motivation he needed came in the form of a typical recruiting letter, but the 6-foot-5, 230-pounded Council Rock North High (Newtown, Pa.) defensive end used it as motivation.
Two days after he received his offer during a campus visit to Penn State, he joined the 2013 Nittany Lions' recruiting class. Cothran went public with his commitment Monday evening.
"It feels great because I know Penn State is a great place and everything was on point," Cothran said. "The staff, the area in general, and everyone are nice people. Now, it's just a weight off my shoulders so now I can just focus on my season and try to have a good season."
Cothran will head to Penn State as a defensive end.
He said he fits in well with the defensive scheme, especially getting up the field and after the quarterback, but his decision to attend Penn State had little to do with football, and more to do with the environment coach Bill O'Brien is creating.
"It's really the coaches and their philosophies," said Cothran, who made 40 tackles and had four sacks as a junior. "They talked about me progressing as a person and also as a football player, but it was more as a person, and just becoming a well-rounded person. And having great academics and everything, it just seemed like they were talking about everything, and not just football.
"The fact they said if I get injured, I would still have the scholarship on the table …that's real nice to hear."
Cothran knew he was going to commit after he returned home from the visit on Saturday, but he wanted to take a few days to make sure it was right, and before he went public with it.
"I called my recruiting coach and then got on the phone with coach O'Brien and told him, too," Cothran said. "They were real happy, and real excited and they can't wait for me to graduate and come there."
It was also the culmination of a long journey to grow as a football player and become worthy of a Penn State offer, which is something he didn't think about much growing up.
"Probably the first time I thought about it was when they sent me a letter in the mail, and I saw that," Cothran said. "I was real surprised a school like Penn State would even look at me, so I was just happy and hoping I would get an offer, and I did."
The only thing left for Cothran is figuring out a way to celebrate.
"My friends are saying they are going to have a recruiting party," he said, "but I don't know if that is going to happen. We'll see."