PRINCETON — When Princeton Senior High School’s Ethan Parsons was playing varsity football for head coach Chris Pedigo as a freshman, toward the end of the season he tried his hand at a number of offensive skill positions, including quarterback.
After Pedigo completely reconfigured the Tigers offense from a triple option rushing package to the pass-oriented spread, it became evident that Parsons could expect to spend a lot of time at wide receiver.
“We had a great offense. I felt great. [Pedigo] put me where I needed to be and where I could help the team the most,” Parsons said. “We just kept working hard on it in practice. I was excited when we started going spread, because it really opens everything up.”
As he settled into what became his permanent offensive assignment, Parsons had a specific goal in mind. He leaned into it.
“I was working really hard to become one of the best receivers in the state,” said the 6-foot-4, 175 pound senior.
According to the West Virginia Sports Writers Association, he has achieved that goal with room to spare.
For his conspicuous achievements that helped to bring Princeton back into the mainstream of West Virginia Class AAA football, Parsons has been named the 2020 Moss Award winner.
Named after Dupont High School, Marshall University and four-time NFL All-Pro wide receiver Randy Moss, the award is presented annually to the best high school wide receiver in West Virginia as voted upon by the WVSWA membership.
The Tigers are familiar with the high school exploits of Moss, who remains second all-time on the NFL’s regular-season touchdown reception list. Their head coach has told them all about it. Pedigo was a junior player for Princeton when the Tigers crossed paths with Dupont in the 1994 Class AAA playoffs. Pedigo has managed to forget a lot of details about that game, but he never forgot Moss.
“Yeah. I think the first play of the game he went 80 yards for a touchdown. I can’t even remember what the final score of that game was,” said Pedigo, who said he was “extremely pleased” that Parsons has won his old foe’s eponymous award.
Parsons’ individual accolades are the result of a collective effort. After installing the spread, Princeton’s offense regularly broke single-game and regular-season school passing records. The wide receivers flourished accordingly. But the lack of a rushing threat limited the Tigers in the red zone. They won only three games over those first two seasons.
In 2020, vastly improved line play helped talented running back Amir Powell establish a serious rushing threat. The improved run blocking and enhanced pass protection also helped break down coverage on Parsons and his fellow pass catchers, which included fellow senior Josiah Honaker, who recently signed to play for Morgan State. For the first time in three years, taking defenders out of the box to deal with the wideouts carried a significant risk factor. The Tigers went on to earn their first playoff appearance since 2015, eventually losing to South Charleston in the quarterfinals.
Over his four seasons at Princeton, Parsons gathered in 144 passes for 2,290 yards and 28 touchdowns. He has a career average of 15.9 yards per catch. While helping to lead the Tigers to a 6-3 overall finish amidst the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, he had 48 receptions for 862 yards and 12 touchdowns.
On the defensive side, Parsons had four interceptions in 2020, two of which were returned for touchdowns. He had no touchdown receptions scored against his coverage for the duration of the season.
“With what we’ve done [with the offense] at Princeton throwing the football, you’re going to have decent numbers. But this guy has just been extraordinary,” Pedigo said of Parsons. “He’s been dynamic, he’s been hard to defend. He’s been the total package. With his numbers, he’s literally the best in the state this year.”
Last week, Parsons was offered preferred walk-on status by Marshall University. Prior to that, he’d been approached by Glenville State, Bluefield College and West Virginia Wesleyan. He has also had contact with West Virginia University.
Parsons began attracting college attention prior to his junior season thanks to Princeton’s participation in summertime 7-on-7s.
“Ethan really started to put his name out there in those 7-on-7s. He had some tremendous games at Marshall,” Pedigo said. “Against Capital two years ago in a scrimmage, we thought that was going to be a good litmus test for us. We were playing against a secondary that had two Division I guys.
“We go and he makes a highlight-reel type catch between both of those guys. That play really got a lot of people’s attention.”
Not unlike Moss, Parsons is also a basketball standout who can play above the rim. He began dunking the ball in the eighth grade. Since then he’s spent a lot of time on the VertiMax training machine enhancing those abilities.
“There’s nobody that’s really going to out-jump that kid,” Pedigo said. “He’s made some tremendous catches simply because he can go up and high-point the ball better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Parsons also has physicality to accompany his finesse.
“In the South Charleston game [on defense] ... he comes up and just lays a young man out from South Charleston who’s trying to catch a quick screen. That’s a thing that a lot of people don’t know about Ethan. He’ll hit you,” Pedigo said. “He really became a physical, physical football player this year. He really did great in run blocking and blocking on the perimeter for our screens. He became a complete player.”
Most of the teams recruiting Parsons are primarily interested in him as a wide receiver, but his reputation as a two-way standout is also a plus. That’s fine with him.
“I’m an offensive guy but defense ... it’s fun. I like to hit people a lot,” said Parsons, who said he’ll do whatever is asked of him at the next level.
Parsons will be honored at the 74th Victory Awards Dinner on May 23 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.