Micah Parsons is just the latest in a line of Penn State greats to wear No. 11, many of whom in what has been named Linebacker U. The Nittany Lions were named Linebacker U in the 1990s after a string of great linebackers came through State College. Arguably the greatest of the bunch being No. 11, LaVar Arrington. After Arrington wore No. 11 so did NaVorro Bowman. Then it was Brandon Bell. Well, actually then it was Matt McGloin, but he obviously was not a linebacker. Now, it is Parsons in a long line of great Penn State linebackers. So, let’s take a look back at the greats that wore No. 11 before Parsons stepped onto the green grass of Beaver Stadium.
Micah Parsons and Linebacker U; The Legacy of No. 11
It all starts back in the 1990s when I was just a tiny Penn State fan. I heard stories of the linebackers that came before, such as Greg Buttle, Jack Ham, and Shane Conlan. Buttle was a consensus All-American in 1975. He held tackling records until the early 2000s and in the 1975 season alone Buttle accounted for 165 tackles. In addition, he had 15 interceptions while wearing the Penn State Blue and White. Ham would go on to be one of the greatest outside linebackers in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers. While a Nittany Lion Ham racked up 251 tackles. Finally, Conlan, who helped lead Penn State to a perfect 12-0 National Championship season in 1986. All Penn State greats, all a part of Linebacker U, none of which wore No. 11.
The LaVar Leap
Arrington embodied what a Penn State linebacker was supposed to be. He exceeded any linebacker that wore Blue and White before him. Arrington was known for his speed in the backfield and his ability to break up a play. He was all over the field every play. From 1997 to 1999 he, along with Courtney Brown, was the leader of the Penn State defense. Even though Arrington was a Bednarik, Butkus, and Lombardi award winner in 1999 and an All-American, he is most remembered for the LaVar Leap against Illinois. Arrington was able to time his blitz perfectly, stopping the play in the backfield. In addition, he blocked several field goals in 1999 with the same leap. He was fast, he was explosive, and he never quit. In 1999 Arrington racked up 20 tackles for loss, nine sacks, and two fumble recoveries.
The Bowman Switch
Bowman started off his Penn State career wearing No. 18. He switched to No. 11 in hopes that people would start to think Arrington was on the field again. He switched to No. 11 in his sophomore season in 2008. This is when he really started to make his mark. He helped Penn State to a number eight ranking in scoring defense in 2008. Bowman led the Nittany Lions in tackles that year with 106, was second in tackles for loss with 16.5, and tied for third in sacks. One day after his high school coach passed away in an automobile accident, Bowman played USC in the Rose Bowl and went on to break the Penn State record for tackles for loss in a bowl game with five. Bowman then had a long career in the NFL with the San Fransisco 49ers.
The Next No. 11
Bell is the next great Penn State linebacker to wear No. 11. He may not have the same stats as Bowman or Arrington, but he was great in his own right. Bell played for Penn State during the scholarship reduction handed down by the NCAA. Over his four seasons for the Nittany Lions Bell racked up 11.5 sacks, four interceptions, and seven forced fumbles. In his senior season, he tallied two 18-tackle games against Ohio State and Michigan State. During a rough time for Penn State football players, Bell was consistent, a team captain, and embodied Linebacker U on and off the field.
Parsons or Arrington? Sometimes it’s Hard to Tell
We have come to the most recent No. 11 in the long line of Penn State linebackers to wear the number. Parsons has made his presence known since he stepped on the field of Beaver Stadium in 2018. The Harrisburg, PA native decided to stay home instead of playing for Ohio State, recommitting to the Nittany Lions before Signing Day. In his true freshman season, Parsons played in 13 games, started 12, racked up 82 total tackles, four for loss, and one-and-a-half sacks. Parsons plays like Arrington with a different flair. Both have a natural ability that can’t be taught, but Parsons has learned to hone that natural ability a little bit quicker than Arrington. Don’t get me wrong, Arrington is one of the best to come out of Linebacker U, but Parsons has a little something different.
Both are all over the field. Both have the ability to time a blitz perfectly. Finally, both can disrupt a backfield in seconds. Parsons has a raw talent about him that you don’t see often. This showed in his sophomore campaign. Parsons finished 2019 with 109 total tackles, 14 for loss, five sacks, and four forced fumbles. That is six fewer tackles for loss and three fewer sacks than Arrington had in his best season in 1999. Parsons was only a sophomore when he did this. Just wait and see what his Junior campaign will hold.
Finally, it has been teased by Franklin that we could see Parsons return punts. Parsons has even expressed himself that he wants to be let loose. He was a powerful running back for Harrisburg in high school and wouldn’t be the first great Penn State linebacker to return punts. Dennis Onkontz held the position in 1968 and 1969. The back-to-back All-American averaged just over 13 yards per return. So, you never know, maybe Parsons could return a few this season.
Micah Parsons & Linebacker U
Linebacker U is in great hands with Micah Parsons. He has it under control for now and he is leading the way for future Nittany Lions to continue the tradition. Hopefully, we will get to see the best of him this season if COVID-19 allows it to happen.