STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The roller coaster that was Micah Parsons’ recruitment ended the minute he stepped in the weight room in January.
It began with a commitment from Parsons in 2016. Then he backed out before finally committing again. The defensive end out of Harrisburg High also drew attention from college football fans on social media, naming his dog after Ohio State’s mascot, Brutus, and posting photos of himself in other teams’ uniforms after his initial commitment to the Nittany Lions.
“There were some coaches and players questioning if we should go on this roller coaster,” Penn State coach James Franklin recalled Monday as spring drills got underway. “I haven’t had one person question the roller coaster since he showed up on campus.”
The coach has seen Parsons prove himself in the weight room. He said the early enrollee is also maturing. His new position as a freshman will be a leadership role.
On national signing day, Franklin announced that Parsons, a 6-foot-3 241-pounder, will start at middle linebacker and replace Jason Cabinda, who declared for the NFL draft.
“We had a real pressing need at Mike linebacker, and we also have a guy that not only played defensive end but also played running back at a really high level,” Franklin said. “A lot of times, those guys who were really good linebackers were really good high school running backs as well. You talk about a guy who has the body type, the speed, the strength, the quickness, the play-making ability, those types of things — we think he’s got a chance.”
However, Parsons has never played linebacker, which Franklin admitted will make linebackers coach Brent Pry’s job more challenging.
When Cabinda was gearing up for his role at middle linebacker, he could look up to role models such as Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman-White. Parsons will have the take the reins without one.
“It’s not ideal,” Franklin said. “You’d love to have the young guys come in and sit behind some veteran players.”
But he said it’s also important to have competition in order to be two-deep at the position, which is where senior linebackers Jake Cooper and Jan Johnson come in.
“I know there are guys like Cooper who have been waiting for this opportunity, and he’s going to fight with everything he’s got,” Franklin said. “There are a number of guys like that. They’ve been waiting for their turn with Jason Cabinda holding down that position for a long time.”