Micah Parsons was in a different frame of mind — was a different person, really — 16 months ago.
An admitted “bizarre” recruit, the former five-star talent toyed between picking Penn State or a host of other top-tier programs. Even the night before his commitment ceremony in Harrisburg, he was going back and forth between Oklahoma and Georgia.
But Parsons chose the Nittany Lions — and now, he’s believing in the program vision he bought into a year-and-a-half ago.
“When I committed earlier, I said I wanted to bring Penn State back. And I think me and the team are going to do that this year,” the linebacker said on a Tuesday conference call, his first time speaking with Penn State reporters since arriving on campus. “People sleep on us. ... In the next two years, you’re going to definitely see us in the national playoffs, if not this year. I think it’s going to get real scary for the Big Ten.”
Parsons confident, despite odds: Those 2019 team goals won’t be easy to come by, at least according to the bookmakers. The Nittany Lions have 80/1 odds to win the national title, while Ohio State and Michigan are once again the Big Ten favorites.
But Parsons is confident in what Penn State has at its disposal this season. Across the ball, the linebacker complimented quarterbacks Tommy Stevens and Sean Clifford, propped up running backs Ricky Slade and Journey Brown and said wide receiver Justin Shorter will “wake up the Big Ten” come the fall. On defense, the linebacker raved about Jayson Oweh’s progress, lauded Brent Pry’s evolving schemes and claimed that the defense will be “faster than it has before.”
And, of course, Parsons hyped himself up a bit. And who can blame the player who became the first true freshman to ever lead the Nittany Lions in tackles (82)?
Working at two linebacker spots: After technically serving as Koa Farmer’s backup at WILL linebacker — and playing starter snaps — Parsons has worked at both WILL and SAM in spring camp. That is a significant step for a kid who never played off the line prior to 2018. Parsons, a high school defensive end, found out two weeks before his early signing period decision that Penn State saw him as a linebacker, which excited him. But he found out quickly last spring that, even with his freakish athleticism, adjusting to the speed of the college game would be difficult.
“I was pursuing the ball and I was missing all these tackles. I was like, ‘Yo, what is going on?’ I’ve never missed tackles. I’ve never missed plays. I was catching a lot of mental frustration, and I was just confused why I wasn’t playing better,” Parsons said. “Mark Allen, he was tearing me up one-on-one, making me miss. Tommy Stevens, one time I had a perfect fit on him, and I had never seen a quarterback cut so fast and take off upfield. It was ridiculous. I was like, ‘Wow, this is a lot faster than what I’m used to.’”
But Parsons figured it out.
Learning from best, with help from Pry: He watched film on former Penn State standout Sean Lee and Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, gleaning anything he could from the way they attacked ball-carriers and found their fits. He learned from Manny Bowen before the linebacker left the program for good. Jarvis Miller, who transferred to UMass this offseason, took Parsons under his wing last offseason and walked him through the playbook. Farmer, then a senior, pushed Parsons to bring it every day in the spring, summer and fall.
Pry was there for Parsons, too. The defensive coordinator and linebackers coach — one of the prospect’s primary recruiters — held Parsons accountable on and off the field, becoming a “father figure” for the burgeoning star. All the while, Pry refused to start Parsons over Farmer, despite displeasure from Penn State fans. Parsons called that decision a “blessing.”
“I don’t know where I’d be without Coach Pry. He keeps me grounded. I love how he doesn’t accept nothing but the best out of me,” Parsons said. “He gives me a purpose, to prove to him that I can be great for him and prove to myself that I can be great by using everything he teaches me. ... Coach Pry, Koa, they made me keep working. And now, I’m still I’m even more hungry because I’ve got bigger dreams for the team this year and myself.”
Looking ahead: Parsons wanted to be a freshman All-American and the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2018. He accomplished one of those two, losing out on the latter to friend and Purdue star Rondale Moore. He’s at peace with that, looking ahead to what he intends to accomplish in 2019.
Parsons thinks becoming an All-American isn’t out of the question. At some point, he desires the distinction of college football’s best linebacker, too. But he took a page out of James Franklin’s playbook on Tuesday, stating that personal accolades don’t come without team success — and he plans on the Nittany Lions having plenty of that in 2019.
“I’m not hesitating. I’m not nervous. I’m playing like I’ve been here before. I’m fresh, and I’m ready to prove myself. I still feel like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder because the season didn’t end how we wanted it to last year. There’s still a lot to prove,” Parsons said. “This isn’t the same Penn State from five or six years ago. We all know what happened. I think that time is done now. We’re here to win championships.”