Dan Persa in ‘high spirits’ after surgery, expected back in spring

Jonah Rosenblum

The last throw of junior quarterback Dan Persa’s season, a 20-yard fadeaway pass to sophomore wide receiver Demetrius Fields, looked like so many throws he has made this season.

The play illustrated his trademark dexterity in the pocket, his strength and most importantly, his accuracy. Persa, who will likely finish with the record for the highest single-season completion percentage in Big Ten history, unsurprisingly tossed the ball right at Fields’ hands for the game-winning touchdown.

The only shock was when Persa crumpled to the ground – and didn’t get up.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Evan Watkins said he quickly knew something was wrong.

“He’s gone down a lot before, but he pops right back up and continues to play on. It’s just how he is,” Watkins said. “When he doesn’t get up for a while, you know it could be a little more serious.”

Persa ruptured his Achilles tendon. He isn’t expected to return until “sometime around spring practice,” according to coach Pat Fitzgerald. The quarterback underwent surgery Saturday night, and Fitzgerald said that the procedure went “as expected” and that “a full recovery is anticipated.”

Fitzgerald said he was going to visit Persa at Evanston Memorial Hospital, but the quarterback was already gone to spend time with his parents. Watkins said he gave Persa a call the night of his surgery and that the junior was as positive as could be.

“Obviously, he was very disappointed that the season had to end like that, but he was staying very positive.”

Redshirt freshman quarterback Evan Watkins

“He was in high spirits,” Watkins said. “Obviously, he was very disappointed that the season had to end like that, but he was staying very positive.”

Before his injury, Persa had put together one of the greatest seasons in NU football history.

After throwing just 34 passes leading up to this season, Persa needed little time to adjust, completing 19 of 21 passes with three touchdowns in the season opener against Vanderbilt. He kept up the torrid pace all season, finishing with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions. His quarterback rating of 159.04 is 12th best in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Persa will be hard to replace. He is responsible for more than 75 percent of the Cats’ total yards on offense this season. His contributions on and off the field helped NU win seven games and clinch bowl eligibility for the fourth straight season, a program record.

Persa put his teammates in great position to win the team’s first bowl game since 1949, but now his teammates must finish the job without him.

Fields said Persa wouldn’t want his teammates to feel any extra pressure on his account.

“It’s a thing about Dan where he’s such a great motivator and such a great leader that in a way he wouldn’t want us to do it for him,” Fields said. “He’d want us to keep it going along the way it has.”

Yet regardless of Persa’s wishes, there is no doubt the team will have him in mind as it finishes out its season without him. Watkins, Persa’s replacement for this weekend’s game against Illinois, knows he’s got a special responsibility on his shoulders now.

“I told him how sorry I was for him that it had to end like that,” Watkins said. “I got his back and that basically I’m going to do everything I can for him, to lead this team to victories… We’re all going to be in an effort to do it for him.”

[email protected]