PSU fans get a taste of the future
By Philip Cmor
Damion Barber shot through from left end and threw the running back for a 5-yard loss on the opponent’s second offensive play.
On the very next snap, Micah Parsons came through from the other side and engulfed the quarterback 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
It was only a high school game, but Penn State fans have to be salivating at the idea of seeing that combination wreaking similar havoc at the college level in a couple of years — both Barber and Parsons are committed to the Nittany Lions.
While the Lions were preparing to face Wisconsin for the Big Ten championship, the Harrisburg High duo of Barber and Parsons was at Mansion Park on Saturday afternoon for the Cougars’ PIAA Class 5A semifinal game, a 42-10 victory over West Allegheny. The talents of another highly-ranked Nittany Lion recruit, Pittsburgh Central Catholic lineman C.J. Thorpe, were on display Saturday evening as the Vikings punched their ticket to the Class 6A state final with a 63-21 win over Wilson.
“I don’t know what word you’d use to describe it, but it seems like when we win, they win, too,” Barber said. “They’re going to the (conference) championship, and we’re going to the state championship. It’s great.”
All three of the Penn State recruits that played at Mansion Park on Saturday committed early. Barber and Parsons pulled the trigger on Feb. 27 — even though Parsons still has a year of high school. Thorpe joined the class in April, but he always was likely to wind up a Nittany Lion: His dad, Chris Thorpe, played there in the 1980s.
“That meant that we were going up there all the time. That’s always been huge for me,” Thorpe said. “Whenever anyone asked me where I wanted to go, I always said Penn State.”
A five-star prospect as a defensive end who played reminiscent of a young LaVar Arrington with two sacks, 139 yards on two carries, touchdown runs of 41 and 33 yards and an 8-yard go-ahead score on a swing pass where he ran over two defenders and eluded a third, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Parsons has been a regular at University Park for a couple of years. He said closeness to home was a big factor in his decision, but that was just part of it.
“I don’t want to go very far away from my mother. And I believe in James Franklin. I love the program and the facilities. The coaches, every time I go up there, they make it feel like a family,” Parsons, who has been told he’ll even get a chance to play some offense for the Lions, said.
Barber also formed an early bond with Altoona native and Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry.
“They started recruiting me my freshman year. I wasn’t even playing (varsity) my freshman year,” Barber said. “Ever since then, we had a great relationship. They didn’t have a great year (that year), but I still was going to go up there. It just stuck in my mind. My mom loved it. They have a great coaching staff.”
All three future Lions looked the part on Saturday. In addition to Parsons’ big day, Barber had 1.5 tackles for loss and was chasing West Allegheny’s quarterback all day. In the nightcap, Thorpe started on both sides of the line, as Central Catholic outgained Wilson 504-288 and outrushed the Bulldogs 311-33.
There still were question marks about the direction of the Nittany Lions when the three players made their decisions back in the early part of the year. With Penn State winning the East Division of the Big Ten, their choices have been justified, but they said they always knew.
“I’ve always had trust in the coaching staff,” said Thorpe, whose made it to Beaver Stadium for a couple of games this fall. “They’re having a great season. They’re pushing past opponents, beating people that people didn’t think we could beat. It’s been great overcoming all that adversity.”
“It’s remarkable. James Franklin has been keeping his word. He’s turning that program around,” Parsons added. “It’s a great thing that he’s doing there. I’m proud of him and that team.”
Because of Parsons’ status, he’s going to continue to draw interest from other programs. Lion fans were a bit concerned when the star junior took a couple of unofficial visits recently to see Ohio State games.
“I’m going to take all of my visits,” Parsons said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience (to be recruited). I’m just trying to enjoy it and live my dream. That’s all it is.”
Barber said Parsons is his best friend, and he doesn’t seem very concerned that Parsons will be going anywhere besides joining him as a Nittany Lion.
“Micah’s coming a year after me,” Barber said. “That will be great.”