Lions land big one in Parsons
UNIVERSITY PARK — James Franklin looked ahead to a sandy beach, a time when he had hung up his whistle as Penn State football coach and began penning his memoirs when asked about the question central to the Nittany Lions’ 2018 recruiting class.
“The book will probably be five chapters on my career,” Franklin quipped, “and then 15 chapters on the ups and downs and twists and turns and the journey of Micah Parsons.”
On Wednesday, Penn State’s prodigal son returned.
Parsons, the four-time all-state selection and U.S. Army All-American who committed to the Nittany Lions as a high school sophomore but decommitted a year later, was one of 21 players — and the most highly touted — to ink a letter-of-intent with Penn State on college football’s first-ever early signing day.
Parsons was joined on Wednesday by Nazareth star wide receiver Jahan Dotson, who had originally said he was going to UCLA but changed his mind and signed with the Lions. Penn State’s early crop also yielded five-star prospects Justin Shorter (wide receiver) and Ricky Slade (running back), two of the top 10 tight ends in the nation, three well-regarded defensive backs from far outside the program’s traditional recruiting footprint and a solid group of interior linemen on both sides of the football.
The class is ranked third in the country by Rivals.com and fourth by 247Sports and ESPN.
“We’re excited. We’ve still got a little bit of work to do, but, overall, I’m pretty happy with how the day went,” Franklin said.
Of course, adding Parsons was going to put a smile onto Franklin’s face. A consensus top-five national prospect, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Parsons is one of those rare talents who justifies the term “phenom” and often is compared with one of the most prolific highlight-reel players ever to put on a Lion uniform.
“Best HS football player I’ve seen since LaVar Arrington,” wrote former Nittany Lion top-10 national recruit Justin King on Twitter.
“Best high school football player I’ve seen in PA since Terrelle Pryor,” tweeted former NFL player-turned broadcaster Ross Tucker.
Just ask Lion defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith about Parsons.
“Micah is one of the most athletic kids anywhere. I can remember two summers ago at camp where he decided to work out at receiver,” Smith recounted. “There was a cornerback that we were considering offering a scholarship. Micah went up against this kid 10 straight reps and won every rep.
“At that point, you could just see he could do just about anything he puts his mind to.”
Parsons rushed for 1,239 yards and 27 touchdowns this season for Harrisburg, but he’s even a bigger impact player on defense. As a senior, he recorded 10 ¢ sacks despite opponents trying to stay away from him. He is rated the No. 1 defensive end in the country by 247Sports.
Parsons, though, will get his initial look in Happy Valley at middle linebacker, where Penn State has a need. He’ll get a chance to work on the transition early, as he enrolls in January along with cornerback Trent Gordon, tight end Zack Kuntz, safety Isaiah Humphries and fellow linebackers Jesse Luketa and Nick Tarburton.
“I think the challenge is just learning the mental aspect of what we do,” Smith said.
Parsons’ recruitment has been challenging to follow in its own right. He eventually signed with Penn State over Ohio State, Georgia, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Alabama, but a story floated earlier this week that the Buckeyes stopped recruiting him over a self-reported violation, a story that has been received with mixed belief by scout, analysts and fans.
Parsons first committed to Penn State when he was a 10th grader at Central Dauphin, but, almost immediately, he began to show interest in Ohio State, going so far as to name his dog “Brutus” after the Buckeye mascot. He got into a social media debate with Lion cornerback Lamont Wade, eventually decommitted and drew the ire of Lion fans when he supported five-star quarterback Justin Fields’ decision to decommit from Penn State, too.
However, Ohio State fans then became upset with Parsons when he posted a tweet critical of Buckeye coach Urban Meyer during a game visit. At that point, things began to swing back toward the possibility Parsons still might land at Penn State, a rarity for a player who decommits.
“Fortunately for us, at the end of the day, we had built a very strong relationship with mom,” Franklin said, “and we built a very strong relationship with dad, at the end of the process.”
There was some feeling outside the program that Parsons’ father, Terrence, encouraged Micah to look around in the first place.
“Before he decommitted, he reached out to Coach Franklin and said, ‘If I decommit, is my offer still on the table?’ Coach Franklin said, ‘Until you tell us you don’t want to come here, your offer is on the table,'” Terrence Parsons told Landof10 recruiting analyst Tyler Donahue. “Regardless of whatever my son’s been through, Franklin and his staff never wavered. Through it all, they’re still in his corner.”
Penn State waited out the younger Parsons’ over-the-weekend official visit and then got his letter-of-intent. He admitted he made some mistakes along the way.
“In the end, there’s no place like home,” Parsons said on a video announcing his college choice.
It was similar for Dotson, who caught 62 passes and was just named to the all-state team. When it appeared Penn State, which had recruited him hard early, had run out of scholarships, he committed to UCLA, but he changed his mind when the Bruins fired coach Jim Mora. That coincided with spots openings on the Lion recruiting board.
“Family is the biggest thing in my life right now, they’re huge for me, and in talking it over with them, this was the right decision,” Dotson, who also reportedly received advice from Lion All-American Saquon Barkley, told the Allentown Morning Call.
Dotson is part of a great receiving haul for the Lions. Franklin called the 6-4, 220-pound Shorter one of the best receiving prospects he’s ever seen, and Daniel George shows a bit of Chris Godwin-toughness in his catches in traffic.
Penn State could add Arizona four-star wideout Solomon Enis there in February.
Six-seven Zack Kuntz and 250-pound Pat Freiermuth give Penn State a pair of complementary tight ends. Meanwhile, Slade, who was Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year, is a threat to see the field in 2018 — he had a couple of 300-yard rushing games this season.
Four-star prospects Nana Asiedu and Fredrick “Juice” Scruggs headline the offensive line commits, while P.J. Mustipher bolsters the defensive interior.
The Lions added two recruits apiece from Texas (Gordon and Humphries) and Florida (cornerback Jordan Miner and defensive tackle Judge Culpepper). Penn State also got recruits from Illinois and Iowa.
“If we want to grow and evolve the way we want to grow and evolve, we’re going to have to spread our wings a little bit,” Franklin said.
There still are open slots. New Jersey defensive end Jayson Oweh could sign before the period closes on Friday — he is weighing Penn State with Ohio State — and the Lions reputedly lead for Maryland offensive tackle Rasheed Walker, as well as Enis.
Four-star defensive lineman Tyreke Smith was considered a Lion lean for quite a while, but that appears to have changed after he took his official visit, and now most feel he’ll land at Ohio State. That could open the door for Penn State to ramp up pursuit of New Jersey four-star tackle Tyler Friday, though.
“We still have a major need at defensive end,” Franklin said, emphasizing the position by raising his voice. “We still have a need at offensive tackle.”