Penn State Football

Why the ‘sky’s the limit’ for Penn State LB Micah Parsons after record-setting 2018 season

How Micah Parsons is building trust with Penn State’s staff

Penn State football coach James Franklin and defensive tackle Antonio Shelton talk in November 2018 about freshman Micah Parsons.
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Penn State football coach James Franklin and defensive tackle Antonio Shelton talk in November 2018 about freshman Micah Parsons.

Micah Parsons made waves in 2018. Anyone who caught a glimpse of a game knows that all too well. But Parsons also made history in his first year in Happy Valley.

Capped by a 13-tackle performance in the Citrus Bowl, Parsons finished Penn State’s 13-game slate with a team-leading 82 tackles. In doing so, Parsons became the first true freshman to ever lead the Nittany Lions in tackles in a single season. Penn State’s year-by-year records date to 1969, and no one — not Paul Posluszny, Brandon Short or Andre Collins — accomplished what Parsons did.

It should be noted that freshmen weren’t eligible to play until 1972, and former longtime Penn State coach Joe Paterno forced freshmen (i.e. LaVar Arrington) to wait their turn. But what Parsons did was remarkable. And it leaves those in the Penn State program eager to see what he can do in 2019.

“I think the fact that Micah led our defense in tackles and started only one game tells the tale a bit,” Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry said on Dec. 15. “He’s got some growing to do still, some maturing. But my hat’s off to him for the year he did put in.”

Added departing captain Nick Scott: “He’s extremely talented. He’s a freak athlete. So as long as he stays bought in to what we’re trying to do here and what Coach (James) Franklin’s preaching and the information Coach Pry is giving him, he’ll be an extremely great defensive player here at Penn State.”

That was the expectation when Parsons signed with the Nittany Lions. On Dec. 20, 2017, Parsons proclaimed that he would “make noise” in Happy Valley, and that’s what he did from the get-go. The consensus first-team Freshman All-American tallied seven tackles against Pitt in his second career game at linebacker, a totally new position for the nation’s No. 2 defensive end in the 2018 class.

Parsons, despite sitting second on the depth chart behind redshirt senior Koa Farmer, continued to showcase his skills as the season went on. The Harrisburg native tallied seven tackles or more in six of Penn State’s final seven games. In his lone start, Parsons recorded a pair of tackles for loss and a sack against Rutgers. And the 13 stops in the Citrus Bowl were by far a career high.

In Penn State’s 27-24 loss to Kentucky, it wasn’t just Parsons’ quantity that impressed. It was the quality of his play, too. Eight of his 13 tackles were solo stops. And when the freshman forced quarterback Terry Wilson to fumble, he did so after being sucked into a run fake only to chase down the scrambler.

“You see his speed from sideline to sideline, and you see his tackling ability,” safety Garrett Taylor said. “Obviously, he has a ton of potential.”

Of course, Parsons’ 2018 season wasn’t perfect. There were times when it was clear he was an 18-year-old kid playing a brand new position in the Big Ten. But Pry noticed that even when Parsons was out of place or out of sorts, he still played fast. He worked through it on the fly. He wasn’t slowed down.

Now, Parsons has eight months to watch tape and prepare for 2019, a year that might launch him into the 2020 NFL draft conversation.

“He has a big offseason in front of him,” Pry said. “It’ll be exciting moving forward.”

Added Scott: “In terms of potential, we all see that the sky’s the limit for him.”