Micah Parsons, Penn State's All-American linebacker who sought to become a Heisman Trophy candidate, will opt out of the 2020 season. Parsons announced his decision on Instagram with a video letter that began, "Dear Penn State."
Parsons is scheduled to graduate in December, 2.5 years after enrolling at Penn State, fulfilling a promise he made to coach James Franklin and his family. But Parsons said the possible health risks involving COVID-19 and his 2-year-old son Malcolm made him reconsider playing this season.
"My opportunity has finally arrived," Parsons said in the video, produced by Pennlive. "As I considered all my options for the 2020 season, I decided I need to make a choice, not for myself but for my son and those dearest to me. 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 well being of my son far outweighed my urge to play football this season."
Parsons further thanked "Nittany Nation" for taking a chance on a "kid from Harrisburg" who would become the Big Ten linebacker of the year in 2019. He further thanked Franklin, defensive coordinator Brent Pry and a coaching staff that helped turn him into a projected first-round draft pick.
"Without you, I would not be where I am today," Parsons said. "You have allowed me to grow into the young man I have always wanted to be."
Franklin said in a statement that was "unbelievably proud" of how Parsons represented the program the past two years.
"His work ethic enabled him to become a consensus All-American in 2019, the first sophomore to be the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year last fall and to be considered one of the top returning defensive players in the country this season," Franklin said. "What's more impressive than his work ethic on the field is his work ethic in the classroom. He is on track to graduate in December and was also on pace to become an Academic All-Big Ten selection this fall. My job as the head coach of Penn State is to help everybody in our organization achieve their dreams and Micah is a great example. Micah and I have had many conversations about his NFL aspirations throughout the recruiting process and his time at Penn State; he is now ready to pursue those opportunities. I fully support Micah, his decision to opt out of the 2020 season and declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. Again, I couldn't be more proud of him and I am excited to see him play on Sundays in 2021."
Parsons was set to become the face of Penn State football this season, similar to the way Saquon Barkley fronted the team three years ago. In 2019, his first season starting full-time at linebacker, Parsons was voted a consensus All-American and named the Big Ten linebacker of the year.
He capped the season with a 14-tackle performance at the Cotton Bowl, in which Parsons was the best player in a game that produced a bowl-record 92 points. He forced two fumbles, changed the way Memphis ran its offense and afterward said of the Heisman, "The door is definitely open."
During the offseason, Parsons trained with several former Penn State wrestlers, including three-time NCAA champion Bo Nickal, and announced that his goals included winning a national championship and the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker.
"Everything that you put in the air, you speak into existence," Parsons said this spring. "Last year I wrote down my goals, and most of my goals came true. This year I'm going to write down my goals, and they're going to come true."
Pry, who has nurtured Parsons since recruiting him from Harrisburg, was scheming to involve the linebacker more on defense this season. Parsons is a significant presence in the pass rush, in which Pry began to involve Parsons more as his career advanced. Parsons had two sacks against Memphis in the Cotton Bowl and delivered ceaseless pressure throughout the game.
"He’s obviously a rare talent," Pry said this spring. "I think his best football is still in front of him."
In a Twitter post Thursday, Pry called Parsons' decision "Bittersweet no doubt."
"I'll miss him!" Pry wrote. "So much fun to coach, such an awesome talent and from day one driven to get his degree!"
Parsons leaves Penn State with a short but lasting legacy that didn't attain three statistics he pursued: an interception, a kickoff return and a touchdown. He nearly had two interceptions in the Cotton Bowl, prompting quarterback Sean Clifford to call him a "big PBU guy."
And special teams coordinator Joe Lorig has lobbied hard for Parsons as a kickoff returner. In fact, Penn State listed Parsons among its top returners on the spring depth chart.
"Coach Franklin and I have had many conversations about Micah running the ball, getting the ball in his hands," Lorig said this spring. "Obviously he was effective at that in high school, and we're certainly not afraid to do that."
In 2017, before Parsons even had practiced with the team, Franklin said that he planned to play Parsons at middle linebacker as a freshman. It was a position Parsons had not played through youth football or high school.
Ultimately as a freshman, despite starting just one game, Parsons led Penn State in tackles. Last year he was the nation's highest-graded defender against the run, according to Pro Football Focus, which was evident against Michigan. Of Parsons' 14 tackles, eight held the Wolverines to one yard or less.
And he always kept the coaches on their toes. Parsons was ejected from last year's game at Maryland for targeting, a game Penn State ended up winning 59-0.
Tweeted Parsons from the locker room, "My boys taking care of business regardless!! #love! #WeAre"
Franklin wasn't happy with the Tweeting part but did appreciate Parsons' passion.
"On the biggest stage," Pry said after the Cotton Bowl, "he's going to perform his best."
Get the latest Penn State news by joining the community. Click "Follow" at the top right of our AllPennState page. Mobile users click the notification bell. And please follow AllPennState on Twitter @MarkWogenrich.