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From A ‘Killer’ To An ‘Assassin:’ How A Grad Assistant’s Analogy Guided Micah Parsons To The Cusp Of Stardom

Mark Dupuis is a graduate assistant who currently works for Penn State football. Before the start of last season, he shared an analogy that’s guided sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons to the cusp of college football stardom.

Dupuis likened Parsons, who had yet to play a down of college football, to a “killer.” “Killers” achieve their goal, but they may not do it as cleanly as possible. As a freshman, Parsons was obviously talented enough to make plays and lead the team in tackles with 82, but he wouldn’t always make those plays cleanly. The linebacker would sometimes abandon his assignment and go into another gap to make a tackle, which isn’t as clean as it should be.

Based on Dupuis’ analogy, Parsons’ ultimate goal should be becoming a “trained assassin.” A “trained assassin” obviously gets his job done too, but he does so in almost flawless fashion. In the context of Dupuis’ analogy, a “trained assassin” is able to routinely dominate their matchup and consistently make plays with near-perfect fundamentals and technique.

“It changed my perspective on everything,” Parsons said of the analogy. “That just stuck to me forever. Certain things just hit people differently. I looked at my game and said, ‘Dang, I really want to be an assassin.'”

“I don’t think that should be taken negatively at all,” former Penn State safety Nick Scott said following Parsons’ first collegiate start last season. “That’s a great analogy, and I can see his growth. He started by just wanting to get the ball and maybe leaving his gap to do that. Now, he trusts his eyes, his rules and everything like that, and he makes his plays.”

The road to becoming an “assassin” won’t be easy for Parsons, who believes only the greatest players in football can earn that distinction. He said Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald, the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2018, is an “assassin,” but he didn’t name any others.

As Parsons noted, there’s also a stage between the transition from “killer” to “assassin” that he has to move past.

“Think about a ‘killer.’ He’s sloppy, he might leave some evidence, he’s going to get caught,” he said. “You can go from a ‘killer’ to a ‘serial killer.’ A ‘serial killer’ might not get caught. He’s a little more perfect — better than the killer — but you really want to be an ‘assassin.’ He never gets caught, and you don’t even know he’s there.”

Right now, Parsons said he’s at the “serial killer” level, and he definitely made his case as one of the scariest defenders in college football as a freshman. He managed to produce a team-leading 82 tackles while coming off the bench in all but one of the Nittany Lions’ contests in 2018, and he did so in his first season playing linebacker. The man who was recruited as a five-star defensive end used his insane athleticism and 6’3″, 245-pound frame to seamlessly transition to linebacker, and he’s all but locked in as a starter as training camp gets underway.

If you talk to anyone within Penn State’s football program, they’ll likely use the word “freak” to describe Parsons’ athletic ability. He’s one of the fastest players on the Nittany Lions’ defense, and that might propel him into a role in the team’s kick & punt return games.

James Franklin mentioned Parsons alongside guys like KJ Hamler, John Reid, and Mac Hippenhammer — three players who clearly fit the mold of a shifty, elusive return man. Parsons clearly stands out among that group in terms of size, so the fact that he’s even part of the equation there is a testament to his skill and athletic traits.

“[Parsons] knows his role,” new special teams coordinator Joe Lorig said. “One of the things we did at [Memphis] is moving guys around and stacking our returners a lot. I’ve shown the guys that on film. I think he knows that he can be a great blocker and be a great returner and have added equal value on both sides of it.”

Parsons has the ability and athleticism to return kicks, but does he even want to?

“I just want to make an impact somehow,” Parsons said. “I played everywhere in high school, and I want to do that at this level.”

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

Mikey is a senior majoring in journalism and Onward State's Sports Editor. He grew up in Bedminster, NJ and is way too obnoxious about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is hard. If you're dying to see more hockey/golf content on your timeline, you can follow Mikey on Twitter @mikey_mandarino. Send all hate mail, death threats, and your vote for the best chicken parm in State College to [email protected]

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