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PSU's Micah Parsons ready to 'step out of comfort zone' as leader, still 'be dominant'

(Greensburg) Tribune-Review (TNS)
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons (11) tackles Rutgers running back Isaih Pacheco during an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Since the early days of his recruitment as a highly sought-after high school prospect in Harrisburg, Micah Parsons has been known for his outgoing, gregarious personality.

But now that over the span of about 18 months Parsons has moved on from being a precocious Penn State freshman to a veteran leader of the Nittany Lions defense, he acknowledges being the center of attention sometimes isn’t as natural as it appears to be.

“It’s always a challenge when you’re stepping into a bigger role,” Parsons said during a video conference call with media Monday afternoon. “I was just telling (fellow Penn State linebacker Ellis Brooks) this the other day. It will be completely different. I went from the guy who never said anything to the guy who’s got to speak up more.”

Parsons was consensus All-American as a true sophomore last season, and he’ll be on every relevant watch list as one of the nation’s best projected defensive players in 2020. Expected to be a top-10 draft pick next spring, Parsons went from being the young guy among the linebacking corps at “Linebacker U” to the lone returning starter.

Micah Parsons

That, along with his status as one of the best players in the Big Ten, signals all eyes will be on Parsons this year — including those of his teammates.

“I’ve got to go out of my comfort level and try to speak up more and try to be that guy for younger guys,” Parsons said. “It will be a challenging year for me, but it can’t do anything but help me grow. It’s got to be a challenge I’ve got to be willing to accept and a challenge I’ve got to be willing to grow into for us to do what we want to do this year. So it’s something I’m really looking forward to and excited about.”

Cam Brown and Jan Johnson have moved on as the flanks to Parsons at linebacker; Brown to the New York Giants and Johnson to the Houston Texans. Parsons said he has picked the brain of both in regards to how to be an effective leader. Parsons also has leaned on former Penn State stars Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley for similar advice.

None of those players had to deal with the peculiarities of a pandemic-affected offseason like Parsons has. Only Monday were Penn State’s football facilities open for use by players after a three-month layoff.

The challenges that created for working out and physically preparing are obvious. But it might affect leadership just as much. Parsons hasn’t seen teammates in person for half of the offseason to date.

“That’s made everything (in regards to leadership) so much harder,” Parsons said.

Parsons was one of only a fraction of scholarship players who was not on campus Monday. He said he volunteered to join a second wave that was to report to the Lasch Building next week. The university limited the number of players who could report this week to 75, and Parsons wanted to spend Father’s Day at home with his young son and his father.

It was a sign that as seriously as Parsons is taking the season, he isn’t putting any extra pressure on himself just because he’s one of the highest-profile players in the Big Ten.

“I’m just a person that just likes to play the game and so happens to be good at it,” Parsons said. “So I just take every day for what it is. I go out there and just give my 100% and do what I do best.

“It’s about going out there having fun and being dominant — there ain’t nothing more to it than to go out there and try to win championships this year.”