Land of 10 writer Tyler Donohue breaks down a Penn State recruit every Monday . In this edition, we evaluate edge rusher Micah Parsons. Be sure to check out recent analysis on receiver Justin Shorter, defensive linemen Judge Culpepper, Aeneas Hawkins and PJ Mustipher, running back Ricky Slade, tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz, linebacker Jesse Luketa, and safety Isheem Young.
Recruiting isn’t an exact science, but the 5-star label explains plenty about expectations. Micah Parsons, a prized prospect from Harrisburg (Pa.) High School earned that designation early as a sophomore and continued to validate it Saturday afternoon in the first game of his final prep season.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound prospect picked up 5 tackles, including one for loss, during the first quarter of 33-14 victory over visiting Philadelphia powerhouse Imhotep Charter. Though leg cramps limited him to slightly more than two full quarters of action, Parsons made a major impact with 8 tackles, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 pass deflection and a 22-yard touchdown run.
An abbreviated, yet productive performance featured Parsons lined up across the field. He spent time filling eight roles, by my count: defensive end, outside linebacker, receiver, running back, tight end, kicker, punter and “hands team” specialist.
“I honestly think there are very few things that he can’t do,” Harrisburg coach Calvin Everett said after the game. “Wherever we need him is what he’s willing to do.”
This was apparent last season following Parsons’ in-season transfer from Central Dauphin High. Once he put on a Cougars uniform, he became an offensive and defensive catalyst for the program’s first journey to a state championship game.
“Micah belongs where he’s at in the rankings,” teammate and Penn State commit Shaquon Anderson-Butts said. “It’s no hype. He can play running back, receiver, outside linebacker, defensive line. Anywhere you put him on the field, he’s going to do it with the best of them.”
I previously witnessed this versatility June 17 at a 7-on-7 tournament hosted by Penn State. Parsons, who spent 14 months pledged to the Nittany Lions prior to his de-commitment on April 23, simply outmatched an array of opponents that featured several future Power 5 college players.
He shut down intermediate passing windows as a linebacker, chased down long-distance passes as the team’s top receiving threat, boxed out defenders in the end zone for touchdown catches, and even locked onto perimeter pass targets while playing cornerback during the title contest.
Harrisburg won the tournament championship. Penn State coach James Franklin awarded Parsons no-doubt-about-it MVP honors.
One week later, Parsons served up more evidence of his multi-faceted skill set, torching blue-chip defensive backs while running routes during a Nebraska Cornhuskers camp. Some coaching staffs aren’t shying away from possible offensive duties for Parsons, but the vast focus is on his potential as a defender.
As expected, he split reps as a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end and an outside linebacker Saturday. He rarely spent time in the same spot on consecutive series, forcing Imhotep to account for his whereabouts and adjust accordingly. The offense clearly designed movement away from his side of the field on a number of plays, though it didn’t decrease his pursuit toward the opposite sideline.
Parsons doesn’t let his reputation stand for itself. He competes at a high level and hustles like a player still in search of college attention.
Imhotep didn’t attempt many passes, and when it did most were quick hits designed to get the ball out of the backfield as soon as possible. This helped prevent Parsons from adding to a career sack total that exceeds 40 quarterback takedowns. He still managed to apply pressure on several occasions.
More from @Micah_parsons23, folks. Speed kills off the defensive edge and the 6-foot-3, 235-pound prospect has it.
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) August 26, 2017
Parsons can overpower offensive tackles at the high school level, but it’s his lateral quickness that will always frustrate offensive coordinators. He gains separation by violently knocking an opponent’s chest, cutting toward space with a sharp side-step and fires toward the football with straight-line speed you simply don’t see from most defensive end prospects.
“I have the ability to speed rush, dominate my opponent and hold down my side of the field,” Parsons told me April 30 after landing a defensive line MVP trophy at The Opening’s New Jersey regional camp.
He totaled more than 60 tackles for loss and 40 sacks during his first three high school seasons. Based on the way he dominated against one of Pennsylvania’s premier programs Saturday, a career-best campaign could lie ahead, and that’s an amazing accomplishment considering what he’s already done.
This is a key aspect of why Parsons appears to be the total package as an edge defender. He doesn’t take his foot off the gas pedal, despite abundant accolades, scholarship offers, and the fact that he’s still competing against 15- and 16-year-old kids.
Some top-tier prospects become complacent toward the end of high school and they eye an upcoming collegiate career. There is more recruiting noise surrounding Parsons than any defensive player in the 2018 class, yet his focus is more clear than ever.
“Winning big games, being there to help my teammates and keeping my grades up. Those are the important things,” he said.
So is Parsons a defensive end in college? A linebacker? An X-factor weapon on offense?
Perhaps he can be all of the above.
Simply put, Parsons possesses the physical tools and on-field drive to put himself in position for NFL paychecks four years from now.
In my opinion, his arsenal of hybrid skills and size draws comparisons to current NFL stars Khalil Mack (Oakland Raiders) and Von Miller (Denver Broncos). Both have gained praise while playing different positions, and both stand 6-3, 250 pounds, which is right about where Parsons should settle during the years to come.
Obviously this future outlook relies on continued progress in several areas, especially acclimation in a collegiate program as a student, football player and young adult. Parsons is prepared to take a fast track toward conquering those challenges.
During our postgame discussion Saturday, he explained that an academic plan is in place for him to enroll early at a university this winter. If Parsons handles business in the classroom, he is less than five months away from joining a collegiate roster.
“It’s big because I can get used to the offseason program, do spring ball with the team, and know where I’m at physically,” Parsons said.
His recruitment process will command an expansive national spotlight throughout a senior season he hopes ends in another state championship game. College coaches will continue to tap on his shoulder each day, reporters will continue to call, and team fan bases will continue to send compliments — and, unfortunately, insults — on social media.
Such is life for a coveted and uncommitted recruit.
Parsons confirmed that he will take official visits to Alabama, Nebraska and Ohio State. Penn State may also receive one in December, though there is little he hasn’t seen or experienced on campus in Happy Valley. Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Miami are among other schools still in the mix.
Upcoming conversations with family members and those closest to him will help determine the development of a travel itinerary, creating a road map that leads toward intended January enrollment. Whichever program prevails in this increasingly contentious pursuit is primed to add a player with superstar potential that can take Parsons far beyond a college football career.
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