Parsons embraces greatness but not rushing future
By NEIL RUDEL
For The Express
With Penn State’s 2019 season about to close, the defensive leadership torch is being passed to Micah Parsons.
The sophomore linebacker and newly-minted consensus All-American will be the unquestioned focal point of the Nittany Lions in 2020, and a high bar has already been set for his potential.
Take a listen to departing linebacker Cam Brown, himself a three-year regular, two-year starter and respected team spokesman.
“I feel like the only way up is for him to be in the Heisman race next year,” Brown was saying during preparations for Penn State Cotton Bowl matchup today with Memphis. “Seriously, I think Micah has the potential to do that. He’s the player like that. He’s growing into the leadership, and he has the mental fortitude.”
With maybe the best combination of closing speed and one-on-one tackling ability of any Penn State linebacker, past or present, Parsons has led the Lions in tackles for two straight years with a combined 178 and is projected to be a high first-round pick in 2021.
Though he’s a player whose professional clock has practically been ticking since he landed at Penn State, Parsons is trying not to get ahead of himself.
“You got to go one game at a time,” he said. “It’s a long time until next year, and we’ve got so much work to do.”
Parsons said his individual goal has been to attain All-American status — and, with it, his picture displayed on the Nittany Lions’ decorated wall in the Lasch Building — and James Franklin called him with that good news earlier this month.
“They didn’t do it yet (hang his picture),” Parsons said, smiling. “Every day, I’m checking.”
Parsons has a close relationship with LaVar Arrington and several other recent products of Linebacker U, saying he also speaks occasionally with Michael Mauti and Mike Hull.
“Coming here, I had a great vision,” he said. “I wanted to be a great one at Penn State. Every time I walked into the locker room, I stared at the All-America wall. I got (wanted) to be the best of the best.”
Arrington advises him, “before every game, make that one big play,” Parsons said.
While Parsons has achieved personal recognition, he has a grander vision for the team.
There was growth from last year’s 9-4 record to the 10-2 where the Lions stand today.
Still, in Parsons’ mind – and everyone else eager to see if Penn State can, in fact, become elite – the Lions have a gap that needs closed, and one they’ll have a chance to close next year.
“I think how close we’ve come to getting to that next stage and playing in these big games,” he said. “We’re so close. We’re 10 points away, I feel like. One game (Minnesota) cost it all. We got to finish so much better next year.”
Much of that tone will fall on him to set during the offseason.
“My vision’s almost there, but it’s not complete,” he said. “When I committed here, I wanted us to win Big Ten and national titles. I think it’s a good start, but it’s not complete yet.”
Parsons couldn’t be the team leader as a true freshman; he wasn’t even a starter, though he led the team in tackles with 83. He got more comfortable with the responsibility this year but also deferred to Brown and Jan Johnson.
Now, he believes, “I’ve got to step up and be that guy for us. I’ve spent the last couple years kind of being behind the scenes. But I’ve got to be that guy, to be that voice and that game-changer. Guys look up to me now, and when you’re trying to win a national championship, you need that influence.”
Parsons appreciates the influence Franklin and defensive coordinator Brent Pry have made on him.
“When I was recruited, Coach Franklin sat down with me and my mom and talked about much they could develop me,” he said. “Coach Pry and I have battled and argued on how I would fit into the defense, but I have so much love for the dude and how much he’s developed me and made me into a better person.”
Saquon Barkley also helped close the recruiting decision and “is kind of the reason I’m here right now,” Parsons said.
Parsons knows Barkley is the ultimate role model, and he aspires to be the same for his hometown.
“I hope this is motivation for people in Harrisburg,” he said. “My sister works in one of the school districts. I hope to be an influence on all those young kids. I was once in their chair. A lot of young kids in Harrisburg don’t get this opportunity. I hope I’m a great resource and motivation for them.”
Those are admirable long-term goals that Parsons will balance with today’s reality.
“We’re going against a very good Memphis team with a lot of good wins on their schedule,” he said. “We’re looking for a dominant performance and give a sneak peek of next year.”