Micah Parsons, the highest-ranked Penn State recruit in a decade, had lofty expectations when he signed on Dec. 20. Everyone bought into the hype, which was heightened when James Franklin announced that the high school defensive end would try his hand at middle linebacker.
However, as spring practice nears its end with the Blue-White Game set to kick off at 3 p.m. Saturday at Beaver Stadium, the thought that Parsons will be Penn State's next stalwart at 'Mike' has been tempered. The freshman is primarily working at outside, not middle, linebacker. There's a steep learning curve to the demanding role Jason Cabinda grew into over a three-season span, and Parsons isn't there yet.
But Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry is confident in the phenom's potential.
"He doesn't have any experience playing linebacker," Pry told the CDT two weeks ago. "Reading keys, dropping into coverage, he doesn't know how to do those things. He rushed off the edge and ran the football (at Harrisburg). But he takes to coaching very well. .... We're excited about him."
Penn State's infatuation with Parsons is no secret. Franklin said last month he hasn't heard anyone in the Lasch Building "question the roller-coaster" recruiting process since the highly-touted, polarizing freshman arrived.
Running a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds helps overshadow any Twitter-fueled drama. But so does naturally blending into a locker room.
Pry — who doubles as Penn State's linebackers coach — said Parsons is "ultra competitive" and eager to learn from the staff and veterans alike.
"I think the guys are enjoying him; some of them, unexpectedly," Pry added.
Pry says "unexpectedly" because of the, perhaps unfair, self-centered stigma attached to Parsons. The coach believes there was "a misconception about who Micah Parsons really was."
"You can take a lot of readers, fans, and if you made them the No. 6 or 7 player in the country and get the attention that he got, it would be hard for a lot of people to handle it," Pry said of the five-star talent. "He came to Penn State because he wanted structure. He saw the best opportunity for him to reach his potential and do this all at home. There's a lot of loyalty in him, to Harrisburg and to the state of Pennsylvania. In the end, we felt like if Micah Parsons ended up at Penn State, it was for all the right reasons. And he would be every bit the guy that we hoped he could be."
So far, Parsons has proved Pry and the staff right.
"He's fun to be around," the coach said. "And he's got a special skillset."