Penn State is only one game through its season, but the Nittany Lions have already felt the absence of Micah Parsons from its linebacker corps.
That was evident on Saturday when No. 8 Penn State failed to make any one of several key stops in a controversial 36-35 loss to Indiana. The Nittany Lions, now ranked 18th, must find a way to rebound from that devastating defeat against a much more potent offense in Ohio State.
Still, that begs the question: Why was Parsons, one of the top linebacker prospects in his class, absent from the Nittany Lions’ opening game of the season?
Parsons was one of dozens of players who elected to sit out the 2020 college football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, he announced that he would not return to school, opting instead to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. He made the decision on Aug. 6, five days before Big Ten presidents and chancellors officially voted to postpone the season until the spring. (The conference later reversed course for an Oct. 23-24 start date).
“As I considered my options for the 2020 season, I decided I needed to make a choice not for myself, but my son and those dearest to me,” Parsons said on Instagram, where he announced his decision. “While I felt safe with the health and safety standards as we returned to Penn State for workouts, the potential risk to the health and wellbeing of my son far outweighed my urge to play football season. Therefore, I have decided to opt out of the 2020 season and prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.”
Parsons, a junior, mentioned in his Instagram post that he was on track to graduate early in December; per his official roster page, he majors in criminology.
That said, Parsons had the ability to opt back in once the Big Ten voted on Sept. 16 to start the season on Oct. 23-24 under a strict set of COVID-19 protocols meant to ensure safety among players, coaches and staff members.
The following day, ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren reported that Parsons, who by then had signed an agent, was “thinking about it” and weighing his options to return for a final season at Penn State. The same day, Parsons tweeted that, “At this age I never seen so many hard decisions I’ve been faced with!”
Signing with an agent likely presented some hoops for him to jump through to return for one final college season. That said, the NCAA set a precedent with Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade, who said he had an agent but hadn’t signed with them. Wade, alongside teammate Wyatt Davis and Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield, cleared waivers to return to school after saying they would prepare for the NFL draft.
On Sept. 30, however, Penn State coach James Franklin confirmed Parsons would not come back for the season.
“We had a really great conversation with Micah and both his mom and his dad,” Franklin told Rivals’ Blue White Illustrated. “I think there was a legitimate possibility for that happening, but as we continued to talk and continued to work with it, the timing of it made it challenging. He had been gone for so long and had been in California training that made it a little bit more complicated than we were able to work through so that won’t be happening.
The next stage for Parsons is the NFL draft. Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer projects he will be the ninth overall player — and fifth defender — selected, by Washington.
Said Iyer of Parsons: “Ron Rivera added a game-changing defensive disruptor in Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young for his rebuild at No. 2 in 2020, and now taps into the Big Ten again for Parsons, a rangy, hard-tackling and well-covering cleanup man in the Luke Kuechly mold.”
Parsons finishes his Penn State career with 192 total tackles — including 19 for loss and 6 1/2 sacks — six forced fumbles, five passes defended and one fumble recovery.