To be clear, I have never been on the side that thinks Linebacker-U went away or even lost a little of its shine. Not even a bit. Do the names Mauti and Hodges ring a bell? Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman (before he shredded his knee) or Brandon Bell? Captain Cabinda for crying out loud! Those are all just some of State’s recent Linebackers but go back a mere decade and we’re yelling names like Poz, Connor, Lee, and Bowman. Yes, my friends, Linebacker-U is and has been alive and well.
With that said, there is a myth floating around that Penn State no longer has its grip on the LBU title when it comes to pushing out top-notch players and by the looks of it, James Franklin and Brent Pry are currently on a mission to reinvent that perception. Like the Wild Dogs, this year’s linebacker corps is dripping with talent, speed, and a ton of hunger eager to force themselves back into the conversation of who’s who when it comes to the position.
Whether it’s just a myth or complete rubbish, no one disputes we hit rock bottom (by our standards) on a trip to Ann Arbor back in 2016 as injuries decimated the entire unit. In that debacle, both true freshman Cam Brown and Jan Johnson, who spent his freshman season dabbling with the wrestlers as a heavyweight, were forced into action. It wasn’t pretty by any means, but it’s not the debut that counts, it’s the finish, so it’s fitting that they both return for one more season just as Linebacker U gets back to rolling full steam ahead.
Lying in wait like a Lion getting ready to pounce is none other than Micah “the Chosen One” Parsons. He led the defense in tackles a year ago and enters his sophomore season on the shortlist of Butkus Award nominees as a potential defensive player of the year candidate. Despite all his individual talent, what’s most compelling about the new #11 is that he’s not satisfied with Citrus Bowl invites and one-point losses. The Harrisburg-native wants to raise a championship banner as bad as his coach and has put the defense on his back as we aim to reach the pinnacle.
What stands out as much as the starters on this unit is its collection of depth, and that just might be where the myth gets debunked once and for all. The second wave led by Jesse Luketa, Ellis Brooks, Charlie Katsir, and Max Chismar (whose dad Brian knows a little something about the legacy of LBU) represent little to no drop off should injuries take a toll as they did on that fateful day in Ann Arbor. Add in early enrollees, former 5-star Brandon Smith (who reportedly already has the look of a potential starter) and Lance Dixon, and it becomes as formidable a unit as any in the country including Alabama, Clemson, and yes, the hated Buckeyes, who have all tried to stake claim to a title that belongs to us.
No folks, I never fell prey to the myth that Penn State lost its Linebacker-U title, but let’s consider this season a challenge for anyone that did. Did I mention yet how good this defense is expected to be? Stay tuned Nittany Nation, the Wrecking Crew are on deck later this week as we close out the position previews and set our sights on making mashed potatoes out of Idaho! Kickoff 2019 is just around the corner!