In a surprising twist, Micah Parsons did not make the latest freshman All-America team. And neither did Pat Freiermuth.
However, Penn State was represented on the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America Team, as all-purpose threat KJ Hamler was recognized as the top young kickoff returner in college football.
Hamler — a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award, which is given to the nation’s most versatile player — was certainly deserving of the honor. The redshirt freshman lived up to his nickname of “The Human Joystick,” accounting for 1,417 all-purpose yards (754 receiving, 619 returning, 44 rushing) and six total touchdowns. Hamler’s 26.15 yards per kickoff return ranked third in the Big Ten and 20th nationally.
“We want him to have the ball in his hands,” Penn State special teams coordinator Phil Galiano said days before the Citrus Bowl. “We think he can score every time he touches the ball.”
Given Hamler’s production, it wasn’t a shock to see his name pop up on the FWAA team. It was stunning, though, not to see Parsons or Freiermuth make the cut.
Parsons became the first-ever true freshman to lead Penn State in tackles in a single season, racking up 82 stops in 2018. The former five-star prospect started just once, but tallied seven tackles or more in six of Penn State’s final seven games. Instead of Parsons, the FWAA voters picked four other linebackers: Arizona State’s Merlin Robertson, Iowa State’s Mike Rose, Tulsa’s Zaven Collins and Troy’s Carlton Martial. Only Collins had more tackles than Parsons, who was recognized as a freshman All-American by ESPN, 247 Sports and The Athletic.
Freiermuth’s exclusion was odd, too, but for a different reason: The FWAA Freshman All-America team apparently does not have a tight end slot. On the offense, it honored two quarterbacks, two running backs, three receivers and six offensive linemen. If it had a tight end position, Freiermuth would have to be considered. The Massachusetts native hauled in a team-high eight touchdowns and was selected to freshman All-America teams by ESPN, 247 Sports and The Athletic.
Freiermuth, Parsons and Hamler all closed out the year well in the Citrus Bowl. Freiermuth scored, Parsons tallied 13 tackles, and Hamler had a 41-yard screen catch-and-run despite only two targets.
That trio will provide a foundation for Penn State in 2019. The Nittany Lions open their new season against Idaho on Aug. 31 at Beaver Stadium.