It’s ironic, in a way, because he has never been outside the spotlight. Even when he spent his entire true freshman season as a backup and still led the team in tackles. Especially when he was dominating games as a sophomore last season.
Micah Parsons insists he never looked at himself as more than a piece to Penn State’s puzzle, just a kid learning how to play, an eager student following instruction from the veteran players who came before him. Not until now, anyway.
Now, he knows being quite a bit more is going to make 2020 his most challenging season yet. Commanding a stat sheet has never been an issue for Parsons, but as Penn State’s only returning starter at linebacker, he knows he’s going to have to command a room much better.
“It’s going to be completely different,” Penn State’s star junior said during a video conference Monday afternoon. “I went from, ‘God, I’ve never said anything,’ to the guy that probably has to speak up more. I’ve got to go outside of my comfort zone a little bit and speak up more and try to be that guy for younger guys.
“It’s going to be a challenging year for me, but I think it can do nothing but help me grow. It’s a challenge that I’ve got to be willing to accept and a challenge that I’ve got to be willing to grow into to do what we want to do this year.”
The challenge is leadership, and it’s not like Parsons hasn’t had plenty of examples to follow.
He admired the way former walk-on Jan Johnson carried himself the last few seasons, developing into a reliable starter and an improved hand in the middle of the Nittany Lions defense in 2019. He tried to emulate his tenacity in practice, his approach to study in the film room, even his consistency off the field.
That is something Parsons hopes can continue as he becomes the unquestioned leader of a linebacking corps that will see open competition among junior Jesse Luketa, sophomores Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith, and freshman Lance Dixon. But he has sought other opinions, too. He talked to Cam Brown, who graduated alongside Johnson after last season, and former Penn State star running back Saquon Barkley to get some insight into their approaches to leadership.
It’s not a transition that snuck up on him. Former Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley told him before the 2019 season he’d have to start considering the changes in his approach he’d need to make himself an all-around example for younger players once 2020 rolled around.
“I’m just learning how to be that guy that everyone looks up to, and learning what it takes and what do you have to give up to be that guy,” Parsons said. “You have to give up wanting to have fun all the time. You have to be serious and change your approach. Just those types of leadership qualities that you want to see in a person is just kind of important, is how it was explained it to me.”
Still, he is awaiting his chance to assume that role in person.
Parsons is one of the few Penn State scholarship players who was not in State College last week as part of the first phase of the team’s return to campus. He said the coaching staff allowed him to spend one more week at home, where he’ll spend Father’s Day with his dad, Terrence, and young son, Malcolm. Parsons will instead report to voluntary workouts with the second phase of returning players Monday.
Until then, he knows he will have to overcome a challenging transition in his career that happened to fall during a difficult time. He doesn’t plan to be a video-chat leader once he’s in the room.
“We can’t control what happened with this pandemic. You can’t control what’s been going on in the world right now,” Parsons said. “But we can control how we come back after this pandemic and how we move forward. We’re going to get better from it.”
Donnie Collins has been a member of The Times-Tribune sports staff for nearly 20 years and has been the Penn State football beat writer for Times-Shamrock Newspapers since 2004. The Penn State Football Blog covers Nittany Lions, Big Ten and big-time college football news from Beaver Stadium to the practice field, the bowl game to National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5368; @DonnieCollinsTT