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2021 NFL Draft: Opt-outs Penei Sewell, Micah Parsons kept first round in focus

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2021 NFL Draft: Opt-outs Penei Sewell, Micah Parsons kept first round in focus

Oregon tackle Penei Sewell and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons admit that opting out wasn’t easy.  

They were All-American selections in 2019. Sewell won the Outland Trophy, and Parsons was a finalist for the Butkus Award. They were considered top-10 picks for the 2021 NFL Draft before opting out of the 2020 college football season amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  

“I just missed the edge you get from being able to dominate people in front of me,” Parsons told Sporting News. “Just being able to go attack people and go compete and challenge teammates and challenge myself. … It was just a really tough situation for everyone.”  

MORE: NFL mock draft 2021, 3-round edition

Sewell and Parsons, however, are still among those opt-outs expected to be first-round picks at the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday in Cleveland. Both prospects are partnered with USAA, and they gave credit to their respective families and their military backgrounds for their draft preparation.  

Sewell struggled to find a routine after the decision to opt out. It’s difficult to find a true substitute for game reps. He allowed just one sack in 1,376 snaps while playing tackle for Oregon from 2018 to 2019. He didn’t commit a penalty as a freshman.  

Sewell, however, recalled a conversation from his childhood with his great-grandfather James Sewell, a U.S. Army veteran. One word stood out from that conversation.  

“Discipline,” Sewell said. “Right then and there, that word popped up in my mind. I asked him what that meant, and when he told me that meaning, and it stuck. 

“I forgot it at first when I went to Oregon,” he said. “Once I opted out and was on my own, it came back to me. Right then and there, that’s when I found I out who I am and found a routine as a professional.”  

Sewell found a workout routine that was right for him, and the key in that preparation was staying true to the lessons learned from Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and offensive line coach Alex Mirabal. Sewell, who had two brothers who played college football, stayed with that disciplined workout approach and stayed close to his family through the whole process.  

“What worked for me was to keep it as simple as possible — whatever that looked like on the field,” Sewell said. “Again, with me coming in and practicing with NFL people that have seen the game, I was kind of trying to impress them and almost got out of my game because I’m trying to do too much.  

“What I found to believe is to always be true to who I am and stick to the knowledge that has been given to me and build on that.” 

Parsons is the defensive counterpart who was considered one of the top defensive prospects heading into the season. He totaled 191 tackles and 18 tackles for loss in two seasons as a linebacker with the Nittany Lions.  

Parsons also had a grandfather in the military, but that structure and routine stuck because of his uncles Marcel and Michael McDonald, who serve in the Army and Air Force, respectively. He worked out with ProActive Sports Performance in California before returning to Harrisburg, Pa., where he continues to work out ahead of the draft.  

“They’re building something really amazing, and some of the things that I learned from my uncles and my grandfather were ‘honesty and respect,'” Parsons said. “Everything is earned and not given, and it’s about trying to come in with the right mindset every day.” 

Parsons kept a calendar where he would check off goals during each day of the offseason. Like Sewell, he was pushed by his family to stick to that training regimen. He also dealt with missing game days when Penn State resumed its football season.  

“I hate to lose and I love to win,” Parsons said. “Going out there and do what I do best and hitting people and making plays was something that I missed very much.” 

Missing the season did not hurt either player’s draft stock. In Sporting News’ latest NFL mock draft, Sewell is projected to go No. 8 to the Carolina Panthers and Parsons is projected at No. 14 to the Minnesota Vikings. Sewell figures to be a franchise tackle and Parsons is part of that wave of next-gen linebackers who can cover the field from sideline to sideline.  

Both used those lessons off the field to maintain that draft status.  

Sewell was part of the Pac-12’s player movement that called for more benefits for student-athletes, and he plans to stay active in pushing for those changes in college football.  

“I’ve learned and really grown so much as an individual,” he said. “I was part of that movement, and I wanted to show — not just to my teammates but the other sports around me that I’m supporting them, and I want to be there for them.”  

Parsons, meanwhile, stayed true to that military-like schedule to accomplish his daily goals. It was something instilled at an early age.  

“I would say I can’t live without structure and routine,” he said. “It’s in my daily schedule. I have to have something mapped out for me. I have to have a plan every day. I was raised to have a plan and always know what you are doing with that plan.” 

That plan didn’t change with opting out. It will be interesting to see how that trend continues in future seasons knowing that Sewell and Parsons, along with others such as LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, sat out but still should be top-10 picks.  

In their cases, the rewards outnumbered the risks.  

It will be worth the wait on Thursday.  

USAA and the NFL created the “Salute to Service” platform to authentically honor and appreciate the military, veterans and their families. Sewell and Parsons told their stories ahead of the NFL Draft through USAA. “USAA does an amazing job, and I’m so happy to be a part of this and what they represent for the people who protect this country,” Parsons said.  

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Clippers’ Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

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Clippers' Paul George misses crucial free throws in stunning Game 2 loss to Suns

The box score from Tuesday’s Suns-Clippers game — a pivotal Game 2 win for Phoenix in the Western Conference finals — will show Paul George had a decent game.

Twenty-six points, on 10-of-23 shooting; six assists; six rebounds; and 5-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. He also scored his team’s last six points, all within the last minute, to help the Clippers to a 103-102 lead with just 8.2 seconds remaining.

The only stats that ultimately mattered in the Clippers’ 104-103 loss, however, were the final two free throws George — a career 84.7-percent free throw shooter — missed. They ultimately allowed Phoenix a chance at an unbelievable comeback victory, which may prove costly even as the series heads back to LA.

NBA MOCK DRAFT 2021: Who will Pistons, Rockets take with top picks?

Had George sunk both of those shots, the Suns would have needed a 3-pointer just to send the game to overtime. Had he sunk even one shot, they would have needed a 2-pointer. But he missed both, allowing the Suns to win on an inbound dunk with less than a second remaining:

Credit to Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder and the Suns. That play will go down as one of the top plays in NBA playoffs history. But every heartbreaking loss needs a goat, and no one fits the bill better than “Playoff P,” who could have secured a win for his team with the simplest of basketball scoring plays.

Here’s the bright side for the Clippers, if there is one: They have already overcome 2-0 deficits in each of their first two series against the Mavericks and Jazz, respectively. That’s likely a cold comfort as George and Co. head back to LA, however. The scathing Twitter comments aimed at George likely won’t do anything to help, either:

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Athletics’ Sergio Romo pulls down pants during substance check

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Athletics' Sergio Romo pulls down pants during substance check

MLB pitchers aren’t taking kindly to the league’s new foreign substance rules.

Athletics pitcher Sergio Romo seemed particularly annoyed that the umpires performed a substance check on him Tuesday night.

After working a one-run seventh inning for Oakland, the umpire beckoned for Romo to come over for the check. Romo responded to the moment by tossing his hat and glove to the ground and whipping his belt off.

MORE: Rays’ Wander Franco homers in first MLB game

Then came Romo’s final act. He pulled his pants halfway down to prove that he wasn’t harboring any illegal substances.

Romo certainly made his point, but Dan Iassogna, the umpire checking him, didn’t seem too bothered by his high jinks. In fact, the umpire flashed a smile at Romo, who the broadcast described as “heated.”

Romo wasn’t alone in being bothered by the substance check on Tuesday. Max Scherzer was checked for foreign substances three times in the first four innings of the Nationals-Phillies game and became increasingly irritable with each examination. He directed his rage at Phillies manager Joe Girardi, who was later ejected for jawing at Scherzer. The checks didn’t seem to faze the three-time Cy Young winner too much; he earned the win, pitching five innings while giving up just a run and striking out eight.

Needless to say, these antics will be fairly common as MLB attempts to implement these rule changes on the fly.

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Nationals’ Max Scherzer feuds with Phillies’ Joe Girardi over substance checks

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Nationals' Max Scherzer feuds with Phillies' Joe Girardi over substance checks

MLB’s new sticky substance rules are already causing havoc, and resulted in a feud between Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Phillies manager Joe Girardi on just their second day since being implemented.

Scherzer was checked for foreign substances three times in his first four innings against Philadelphia. He came up clean each time. The Washington starter didn’t look happy about his first check of the game after the opening frame.

That said, all starters will be checked for foreign substances under MLB’s new protocols, so that was expected.

MORE: Wander Franco cranks three-run homer in first career game

What wasn’t expected was that Scherzer would be checked after the third inning as well. He finally drew the line when Girardi requested that Scherzer be checked in the middle of the fourth inning.

The feud between Scherzer and Girardi reached its boiling point in the fifth inning. Scherzer stared at Girardi on his walk back to the dugout after retiring the Phillies in order, and Girardi took exception to it. He came running out of the dugout yelling at Scherzer and was ejected while the pitcher mocked him from a distance.

Be prepared to see more of these mini squabbles and frequent substance checks. Managers have the right to have the opposing pitchers checked, so they will likely take advantage of this as baseball implements this major rule change on the fly.

Though the Scherzer-Girardi feud was amusing, it’s certainly not a feather in MLB’s cap. If anything, it’s a bad omen that the league’s hastily made protocol changes could result in more conflicts, slowdowns and controversies as umpires figure out how to properly deal with them.

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