AP NEWS

Now A Starter, Parsons Has Big Plans, Bigger Dreams

April 10, 2019

Micah Parsons had some of the nation’s most famous college football coaches eating from his giant hands. The glow of being one of the nation’s top high school football recruits had hardly worn off. The spotlight that found him when he stood out as one of Pennsylvania’s most dominant two-way high school football stars in years had not dimmed. Lesson No. 1 for Parsons came in his first few practices at Penn State last spring, though: None of that would help him anymore. Not surrounded by the reality of what college football is. Not even against some of the players who had never even cracked the Nittany Lions’ starting lineup. “I was just pursuing the ball. I was missing all these tackles. and it was like, ‘Yo, I don’t know what’s going on. I never miss tackles,’ ” Parsons said. “I was missing plays I know I could make. It was a lot of mental frustration. “(Backup running back) Mark Allen, he was just tearing me up, making me miss. (Backup quarterback) Tommy Stevens … one time, I had a perfect hit (lined up) on him, and I’ve never seen a quarterback cut so fast. It was ridiculous.” Things were happening on the field so much faster than what he was used to. He knew he had to do better. In almost every way, Parsons is a bit different, a budding superstar cut from a different cloth athletically, socially. He’s good, and he knows it. He plans to achieve greatness, and he doesn’t care who knows that, either. When he spoke Tuesday to a group of writers for the first time since arriving at Penn State a year ago, he left little doubt about the big impact he believes he can make, starting with the annual Blue-White Game on Saturday at Beaver Stadium. He measured in this spring at 6-foot-3½, and nearly 250 pounds, an eye-catching size for an outside linebacker with blistering 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash. “My body is looking fresh,” is how he put it. He won’t turn 20 until May. He has played exactly one year at linebacker. He has never started a game. But he calls himself “a vet” among his fellow linebackers, and why not? Despite those facts, he had 11 more tackles than anybody else in a Penn State uniform in 2018. He doesn’t talk like someone certain the ups and downs he experienced as a true freshman won’t make him a different kind of player in 2019. A difference-making player. A championship player. “In the next two years, you’re going to see us in the national playoffs,” Parsons predicted, “if not this year.” These are not the words of that overzealous true freshman who flailed helplessly as Allen sprinted past him and Stevens disappeared in front of his eyes. These are the words of the sophomore who learned as much about himself in the first go-round as he did about football. “I think once I got here, I had the opportunity to show people I was more than just a football player and a bizarre kid on social media,” Parsons said. “I showed I was real good with my academics. I wanted to come in as a focused football player and become a better football player and person. … I bought into the program once I got here, and they helped me become the person I am today.” Parsons can’t wait to show fans Saturday how much faster he has gotten, how much faster the defense as a whole has gotten. He wants to show he has fit himself into the system after a year of learning the ropes, that he can play faster because he knows that system. So much of that, too, revolves around how much he has developed as a person away from the field. His life was admittedly a whirlwind of on-field highlights, recruiting visits, decisions made and snapped — he committed to Penn State before decommitting last summer, then chose the Nittany Lions again after dalliances with Georgia and Oklahoma. But, he had to be more responsible to himself and his teammates once he became a part of the Penn State program. There was a mental aspect of being a college student and athlete, and he had to learn that. Had to learn how to get the most out of meetings, how to get enough sleep to arrive at those early meetings alert and prepared. Morning workouts at 4 a.m.? They didn’t have those at Harrisburg High School, and if they did, he certainly wouldn’t have had to wake himself up to get there. But, Parsons said he bought into the program, has accepted his responsibilities to his teammates and has found he has thrived away from the limelight he created in high school. Coming off the bench last year taught him the most valuable lesson he could have learned as a young player. Playing college football wasn’t meant to be easy. Even for him. “It made me stay hungry,” he said. “It made me realize every time I went out there, I had to capitalize on my opportunity. It was probably a blessing. “Just to be in that position, where you can play that much as a freshman, is really amazing. But when you stay humble and just keep working, you tend to get better. I think coach Pry made me keep working. Now, I’m even more hungry. Now, I’ve got even bigger dreams for the team this year, and for myself.” Contact the writer: dcollins@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9125 @psubst on Twitter