HARRISBURG, Pa. — Surrounded by classmates, coaches, teachers and teammates, prized college football prospect Micah Parsons officially received his U.S. Army All-American jersey Tuesday afternoon during a ceremony at Harrisburg High School. The 5-star defensive standout, considered a premier member of the 2018 recruiting class, wore a wide smile throughout much of the event.
“This is a big part of the journey,” Parsons told Land of 10. “It’s a true honor.”
Now in the midst of a senior season defined by state championship expectations, where the journey leads next remains a mystery.
Parsons, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound playmaker who stars for the Cougars at defensive end, linebacker and running back, is attempting to graduate high school early. This feat has never been accomplished at Harrisburg, according to his father, Terrence Parsons, and the goal is to get him on a college campus for spring semester. Micah would utilize the new early-signing period (Dec. 20-22).
A recruitment that started during his freshman season has reached its final stretch. Parsons initially committed to Penn State coach James Franklin in February 2016, midway through his sophomore year. He remained a cornerstone of the group for 14 months, but backed off the verbal pact on April 23.
Following his return to Beaver Stadium last Saturday, there is growing sentiment he may end up in Happy Valley after all.
“At first, being back there was a little different,” Terrence said. “You know, we never said that wasn’t going to be the place, he just wanted a little peace. Before he de-committed, he reached out to Coach [James] Franklin and said, ‘If I de-commit, is my offer still on the table?’ Coach Franklin said, ‘Until you tell us you don’t want to come here, your offer is still on the table.’
“Regardless of whatever my son’s been through, Franklin and his staff have never wavered. Through it all, they’re still in his corner.”
It also was clear Saturday that there are many Nittany Lions fans in Micah’s corner. He received a warm welcome after emerging from the stadium tunnel minutes before Franklin and the team arrived for a game vs. Georgia State.
“It means a lot,” Micah said. “They were mad at me, and when I came back it was all love again. You know, we’ve got a love-hate relationship. It’s all love right now.”
As Micah admits, his relationship with the Penn State community is complicated. The same can be said about dynamics between him and Ohio State.
The Buckeyes hosted him for an official visit Sept. 9, when he watched Ohio State suffer a frustrating loss to Oklahoma. As you likely know, afterward Micah tweeted in support of giving redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins a shot at quarterback, where accomplished veteran J.T. Barrett is a longstanding starter.
The ensuing social-media firestorm featured plenty of opinions, ranging from fellow 5-star recruits to lead ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit. It put Micah under the microscope last week as a divisive figure, seemingly overshadowing his abilities as a football player.
“He’s realizing a thing me and his mom tell him: The world is not always fair,” Terrence said. “They’ll take something you say, and flip it any way they want to. Last week, they flipped it to make him like a bad guy. He has to live with that. You know, he apologized about it. Everyone was in their feelings after the game, but I guess because who he is, it was a big deal. He’s got to move forward.”
Micah understands the situation, though he’s not hiding from it.
“I shouldn’t have said it, but everybody has their beliefs and opinions,” he said. “People can take it good or bad.”
There has been abundant speculation about how Ohio State coaches and players have reacted internally. Jeremy Birmingham, Land of 10’s Buckeyes recruiting reporter, cited sources in Columbus stating at least some in the locker room were “pissed” about his comments.
Terrence strongly indicated that communication between the Parsons family and Ohio State has become limited. Micah painted a more positive picture.
“We all good,” he said, explaining Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer sent him a text message that cleared the air.
Terrence stressed that interest in Ohio State remains high, but this recruitment isn’t Buckeyes-or-bust.
“They’re still in our top four,” he said. “If they happen to pull the offer, then that’s the way it is. We’re following God’s path, and as they say, when one door closes, God will open another one.”
So which other programs are in Micah’s top four? That list isn’t yet public, but it becomes somewhat clear as Terrence describes upcoming plans.
“Our next visit is Nebraska [Oct. 6],” he said. “Then we’re going to try to make it out to Georgia, and then hopefully back up to Penn State. But the way the [Harrisburg] football season is, with games on Saturdays, it’s a struggle.”
Micah has mentioned Alabama as a possible official visit, and the Crimson Tide hosted him on campus in July. Terrence said Nick Saban’s staff has been in touch, but another trip to Tuscaloosa no longer sounds realistic.
Depending on where things stand with Ohio State, Nebraska may be the Big Ten threat to pry Micah away from Pennsylvania.
“He really talks highly about Nebraska, so me and his mom are going to make the trip,” Terrence said. “We set it up, we’ll go out there, meet the staff, see what they have to offer, come back home and put it out on the table. The ultimate decision is his. We’re going to support him regardless, but we’re going to see where it falls.”
Georgia, a program that’s expressed interest in Parsons at linebacker and possibly as an offensive weapon, is an SEC wild card to watch moving forward. The Parsons family previously took an unofficial visit to Athens.
“They’re real family oriented. How they laid it out [regarding academics], as a parent it’s what you want to hear,” Terrence said. “Basically, for you not to make it down there, you just have to come in there and say, ‘I’m not doing any work.’ ”
Micah, a newly anointed All-American, arguably is the most compelling uncommitted defensive recruit in America. He entered his senior season with more than 40 career sacks and 60 tackles for loss. With 7 touchdown runs through three games this season, he may also be the best 2018 running back in Pennsylvania.
The stakes are high for the heralded talent, and the college staffs still are pursuing him. The mission for Micah is to identify a university where “I’m really ready to be,” then focus on reaching the finish line as an early graduate.