Following a season as a consensus All-American, Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons realizes he has more responsibility to assume for the Nittany Lions this season, taking over the leadership of a position group that lost two starters to graduation.
“It’s always a challenge when you’re stepping into a bigger role,” Parsons said Monday in a conference call with reporters. “It’s going to be completely different. I’ve got to go outside of my comfort zone a little bit and speak up more and try to be that guy for our younger guys.
“It's going to be a challenging year for me, but I think it can't 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. It's something I'm really looking forward to and I'm excited about.”
In his two years with the Lions, the 6-foot-3, 244-pound Parsons, a defensive end in high school, has gone from someone who arrived on campus knowing very little about the linebacker position to a dominant performer as a sophomore — a team-high 109 tackles, 14 tackles for losses, five sacks, four forced fumbles.
In addition to the performance, which earned him honors as Big Ten linebacker of the year, he also learned much about leadership from Jan Johnson, a former walk-on who was the glue of the 2019 defense, calling signals from his middle linebacker spot.
“It’s how he carried himself every day and how he approached the game the right way,” said Parsons, who plays at weakside linebacker. “He might not have been the most athletic guy, but his mental [side] and how he approached the game and his study of the game and him helping me understand the game was just off the charts.
“Jan helped me a lot while I was on the field. He helped me a lot off the field, in the film room, helped me understand the system, why they were running this, what they were running there. That was always a person I looked up to.”
Parsons also learned a different kind of leadership because of the pandemic that kept everyone away from campus: making sure his fellow linebackers were working out as hard as they possibly could.
“But now we get this chance to come back and get a flow of things during these voluntary workouts,” he said. “We can’t control what happened with this pandemic. You can’t control what’s been going on in the world right now. But we can control how we come back and how we move forward. We want to control the things that we can control. Now we’re going to get better from it.”
Parsons was not part of the first phase of Nittany Lions who returned to campus June 8. He said his parents had been “going through struggles with COVID” but are fine now. He also said he wanted to spend Father’s Day this week with his father and his son in Harrisburg and will return the next day.
With no spring practice, the Penn State coaches have been working on different ways to utilize Parsons. Defensive coordinator Brent Pry said they want to maximize every snap when he’s on the field, and put him in the best position to be successful.
“He’s obviously a rare talent,” Pry said in an April interview. “His best football is in front of him. As he continues to grow and develop in the meeting room and his work habits and matures as a college football player, we’re going to see a better and better Micah Parsons out there each and every week. We have to get him more involved.”
In his third and likely final season at Penn State — he is a consensus first-round pick in early 2021 NFL draft projections — Parsons wants his last year to be his best, not only for himself but for his teammates, to make a run at a College Football Playoff berth.
“There’s no pressure on us making the playoffs,” he said. “It’s either we do what we’ve got to do or we don’t. It’s real simple. Every week, I know I’m going to go 110 percent, every day. And I know, whether I win or lose, I can say I did everything I possibly [could] to win the game or get better.