As COVID-19 continues to create havoc in the United States, the football world has been stubborn to react and, as smaller university programs cancel their seasons, some high profile athletes from big time colleges are choosing to opt out of the 2020 campaign.
The latest NCAA star to do so is dynamic Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, a projected top 10 NFL draft pick in 2021.
Parsons’ decision is the right one to protect his multi-million dollar draft status and his personal health, but it has also opened the door for one of his foreign teammates to rise to prominence.
Junior linebacker Jesse Luketa, a proud Canadian who goes by ‘Ottawa’s Very Own’ on Twitter, is the player who will almost certainly take over Parsons’ WILL (weakside) linebacker position in the Penn State defence and has been the diligent understudy since he came to campus.
A four-star recruit who played his last years of high school at Mercyhurst Prep in Pennsylvania, Luketa simply hasn’t been able to crack the starting lineup through little fault of his own. Arriving on campus in the same recruiting class as the transcendent five star Parsons and entering a program known for great linebackers, Luketa must have understood his role would be limited initially.
He’s been a force on special teams since his true freshman season and last year took a step forward as the Nittany Lions tried to find ways to get him on the field, recording 24 tackles and four pass deflections as a package player.
Observers expected a further expansion of roles for Luketa in 2020 but, with Parsons still there, few thought he would be a regular starter until his senior season. Now, that timeline has moved up a year and Luketa has more than enough talent to show off. Rangy, fast and physical, he would already be a star if he played at 90 percent of other NCAA schools.
It remains to be seen what Luketa does with his opportunity, but a high profile spot is now his to use as a platform. As a true junior, Luketa has two years left to play but could declare himself eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft if he has a particularly good season. Either way, its an unexpected chance to raise his stock with scouts and prove he is more than the guy waiting in the wings.