Thursday, February 22

One year into the NFL, Micah Parsons is back in Harrisburg as budding superstar and role model

Micah Parsons’ story has always been about personal growth, whether it was recovering from flunking the 7th grade to earning a Penn State degree in less than four years; or moving past an ill-timed Tweet during an Ohio State recruiting visit to become the latest star in the pantheon of “Linebacker University.”

So now, one year removed from his selection by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the National Football League draft and one Defensive Rookie of the Year award later, Parsons’ next transition is right on track as one of the future faces of America’s most-popular professional sports leagues.

He’s already landed endorsement deals with national brand names like Pizza Hut and Old Spice, and don’t be surprised if you see Parsons on your television screens a lot both on the field and during the commercial breaks this fall. He’s in demand for personal appearances at events like WWE Wrestlemania, Showtime Boxing matches and has received the key to the city in Harrisburg – twice!

Parsons, still just 22, said Thursday that living the life of Micah Parsons, Superstar, is definitely different.

The full-time Dallas resident said he can’t really move around – even in Harrisburg – without being approached by fans and well-wishers who want a taste.

“I can’t really get my peace any more,” Parsons said. “But it just comes with the territory, you know? That’s something I had to own up to and realize you can’t really be like everyone else, and you kind of have got to separate yourself.

“But it’s also a privilege to be able to come back here and get that type of welcoming from my city and the kids and those who look up to me. I mean, that’s a really strong power and it’s such an honor, really, because for me growing up I didn’t really have anyone to look up to. And now I can be someone that the kids can look up to.”

Parsons’ fervent hope is that while his circumstances have changed, he really hasn’t – except for that part of him that famously is always driving toward self-improvement.

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“I’m honestly just the same kid that grew up here in Harrisburg,” Parsons said during a brief media session Thursday, a couple hours before he was scheduled to headline a gala fundraiser for the Salvation Army. “Ain’t nothing changed about me, you know, personality-wise. I feel like I’m just the same kid that grew up right across the street from these blocks.

“Nothing’s really changed about me except for how people view me.”

That is, he realizes, a great privilege and a great opportunity not just for Parsons, but the groups that he touches.

Case in point?

Thursday night’s fundraiser for The Salvation Army, which board president Anne Deeter Gallaher confirmed has sold 600 tickets thanks to Parsons’ appearance, far surpassing any turnout the Army has ever had for any event before.

Parsons toured the Army’s facilities on South 29th Street earlier in the day, learning about its programming and wowing the kids who were on hand for its after-school latch-key program. He told those kids – from Steelton and Harrisburg – they were lucky to have tutoring and homework help available to them, and it leaves them in some ways ahead of him when he was their age.

“I struggled in school growing up, and I didn’t quite get it, and I never had anyone to help me.” Parsons told the group. “So I consider you guys lucky to have something like this. I know it may not seem lucky sometimes. Maybe challenging and annoying the things that people will put you through. but I promise you that you guys are going to grow from it.”

Parsons, of course, did find his mentors along the way: he named his Mom, teammates, coaches – both at Harrisburg and Penn State – and former players like LaVar Arrington and Navarro Bowman.

“You are who you surround yourself with. I’m lucky and blessed enough to have surrounded myself with some really great people, and I couldn’t be any more blessed about it,” Parsons said.

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Some other tidbits from Parsons during his visit to Harrisburg:

  • He loved going back to State College for the spring Blue / White game last weekend.

“Yeah, I got to stop by a couple tailgates and have a bunch of fun. Happy Valley is like where I belong. It’s like a second home to me. I mean I love that place… I kind of told my guys now I wish I had played that last year with you guys because, you know, i just really love it up there. The type of culture and attitude that they drive and give up there is just one of a kind.

“Coach Franklin and Coach (Brent) Pry when he was there really helped motivate me and cultivated me into the person I am today.”

  • He has high hopes for some of his former Nittany Lions teammates in this weekend’s draft.

“I’m going to hit up Jahan (Dotson) a little bit later and tell him I’m wishing nothing but the best for him and I pray to God he goes in the first round because I believe he’s the best receiver in the draft no matter what anybody else thinks.

“It’s a real special moment and those guys need to enjoy it… That’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and a once in a lifetime experience. You’ll never experience anything like that again. That’s a real special moment when all your hard work pays off. So, really good luck to those guys and I can’t wait to see them called. And hopefully some are Cowboys, you know?”

After a hugely successful Year One in the NFL, Parsons said that he wants a long and successful playing career on the field.

And after that?

“Hopefully I can get into TV. I really like TV and what I do with those appearances and the type of people that I’m around. I really do enjoy that.

“But really I just hope being a great father, a good friend and a great brother.

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He also has spoken about doing future charitable work aimed at helping people get second chances, whether that’s supporting re-entry from prison or getting a high school degree or vocational training. Don’t be surprised if Harrisburg – the place that shaped him and that he always seems to have on the top of his mind – is a part of it.

“I lost a lot of friends (in Harrisburg) to violence, drugs, whatever it may be,” Parsons said. “And sometimes, we all make mistakes and we all make that decision that may not be right and it can put you in a bad situation. But life doesn’t just stop at that one pit that you fell into. There’s so much more to life than just our mistakes.

“And I think everyone has potential,” Parsons continued. “Sometimes you just need a little bit of guidance so, hopefully there’s programs we can get into that helps change people coming out of Dauphin County Prison. I know how coming back from jail is such a hard thing. Or maybe you’re still in high school and you get a second chance coming back affairs that you might have had.

Parsons said he’s got an abiding interest in things that can “really build people back up and put them back on their feet.”

And for those kids he met with today?

Parsons’ advice to and hope for is they stay on the right track from the start and pursue their dreams.

He sees himself as proof they can come true.

“I believe everyone has potential. Not everyone has to be a football player or an athletic person. That’s why we have great doctors, we have great nurses. Everyone is special at something. You just have to find it. Your potential might not be my potential. But you’ve got something out there and you should always just work as hard as you possibly can for it.”

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