Three years and one month after Penn State offered him a scholarship as a freshman, Micah Parsons is officially a Nittany Lion.
To most involved, it felt even longer than that.
Parsons’ recruiting odyssey included him giving a verbal commitment to the Lions in February 2016, reopening the process this past April to take more visits and finally inking with Penn State on Wednesday, the first day of the new early signing period.
“After everything I’ve been through in my four years of high school, Penn State was my first offer and they never wavered on me and never quit on me,” Parsons told reporters in Harrisburg after his public announcement. “I just thought I owed them that loyalty back. Loyalty speaks a long way, and they never gave up on me.”
The five-star Harrisburg High School standout is rated the No. 4 overall prospect in the country according to the 247Sports Composite rankings and the country’s No. 1 defensive end. He becomes the highest-rated recruit signed by coach James Franklin, and the highest for any Penn State staff since Derrick Williams came aboard in the 2005 class.
And the Lions weren’t done there. They also added the No. 5-ranked player in the state in Nazareth Area wide receiver Jahan Dotson, a four-star prospect who had been committed to UCLA but flipped to the Lions on Wednesday because of the Bruins’ coaching staff turnover.
Including the two new additions, 21 recruits officially joined Penn State for the 2018 recruiting class, boosting the Lions’ class to No. 4 in the nation and second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State.
The Lions’ lone verbal commitment who did not sign Wednesday was another Harrisburg standout, Shaquon Anderson-Butts, who helped sway his Cougars teammate back into the fold. According to multiple recruiting services, he is not expected to sign in the 72-hour early window.
All recruits can still send letters of intent on the traditional February signing day, which will be on Feb. 7.
Parsons is the third five-star recruit in the class for Penn State, joining New Jersey wide receiver Justin Shorter and Virginia running back Ricky Slade. It’s the first time in the era of internet recruiting services, which began to boom at the turn of the century, that the Lions have landed three five-stars in the same class.
Unlike Slade and Shorter’s recruitments, however, Parsons’ went down to the wire. It’s rare for a top prospect to decommit during the process and still end up signing with his original school.
“I’ve been coaching 23 years, and the book will probably be five chapters on my career and then 15 chapters on the ups and downs and twists and turns, and the journey of Micah Parsons and the commitments,” Franklin said. “The second-guessing, and all the people that felt like they had an opinion in this and what he should do or shouldn’t do.
“Fortunately for us, at the end of the day we built a strong relationship with mom. We’ve built a very strong relationship with dad by the end of the process, the high school coach, and a bunch of people in that community. I think it helped he has a high school teammate in our program now (defensive lineman Damion Barber) that’s doing really well. I think there are a lot of factors.”
As it turned out, there was one last bit of drama to play out before Parsons’ announcement on Wednesday at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg.
Most had Parsons pegged for Ohio State, where former Lions defensive line coach Larry Johnson has made a living landing top recruits from the Harrisburg area. But there was a falling out during the season and the Buckeyes may not have been an option in the end.
On Tuesday, Ohio State’s student newspaper, The Lantern, reported that the Buckeyes self-reported a minor recruiting violation from when Parsons visited the school in September for a game against Oklahoma.
According to the report, an Ohio State staffer arranged for Parsons and other recruits to get access to ESPN’s “College GameDay” set in the morning — an impermissible benefit. Parsons also got his picture taken with Ohio State alums Kirk Herbstreit and Eddie George on the set, also a violation for arranging high schoolers to meet with media members on a recruiting visit.
The report said that was the reason the Buckeyes had stopped pursuing Parsons, which the player and his father denied, as did a handful of other Ohio State media outlets.
“To be crystal clear-I can assure you (Eddie) & I HAD NO IDEA who we took a picture with that day,” Herbstreit wrote on Twitter Tuesday night. “He came on the set at a commercial break & asked for a picture with Eddie and I. I assumed he must be a recruit but had no idea who he was or what he was doing. Ridiculous!”
Regardless of the reason, there was a falling out between the Buckeyes and Parsons following the visit. Parsons and a few other top recruits who took in the loss to the Sooners called for quarterback J.T. Barrett to be replaced with his backup, whom they had met on the trip. That move likely didn’t do him any favors with the Ohio State coaching staff.
A few weeks later, Parsons had found his way back to Happy Valley for a Penn State game, where he got a hug from Franklin as the team was walking into the stadium.
In the end, the Lions won out over Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma and Nebraska.
Parsons transferred to Harrisburg from Central Dauphin midway through his junior season and was a multi-position star for the Cougars. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound athlete ran for nearly 800 yards and 18 touchdowns on offense, adding another two scores on receptions. But his future in college is on defense.
Now that Parsons is on board, the question becomes how Penn State will use him. The school listed him as an “athlete,” and Franklin said later in the day that Parsons will enroll in January, where he will start out at middle linebacker, a position of great need for the team with the impending graduations of Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith, as well as the uncertain future of Manny Bowen.
“We’re going to play Micah Parsons at Mike linebacker this spring and see how that goes,” Franklin said. “We know he can move back to defensive end. But we’re going to have him here for spring ball and see if he can do that.”
“I have a chance to play middle linebacker,” Parsons said. “So it’s just a lot of openings and opportunities that I can take advantage of.”
Franklin emphasized that with Parsons at linebacker, the Lions don’t have a true defensive end in the class. He almost certainly was speaking to the handful of uncommitted targets he is hoping to land in February, if not on Thursday or Friday — namely New Jersey’s Jayson Oweh and Ohio’s Tyreke Smith. Also at the top of the board is Maryland offensive lineman Rasheed Walker.
“I also understand we’re not done,” Franklin said. “There is still going to be more movement today and in the second signing period as well. … I think we’ll have some more action in the next day or so, and then I think we could have some more action — guys that we’re still involved with for the second signing day that we knew they were going to wait until the second signing day. So there are still some moving parts out there.”