Football: Ready or not, here Persa comes

Colin Becht

Nearly 11 months, two billboards and six games later, Dan Persa will once again be under center.

The senior quarterback, who has been rehabbing since rupturing his Achilles while throwing the game-winning touchdown against Iowa last November, is expected to play this Saturday against Illinois.

“He’s not only mentally ready, he’s champing at the bit to play,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “As a college football player, your reward is Saturday. (It’s) the opportunity to go out in the arena and compete with your teammates in the game that you love. He’s going to get that back, and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Fitzgerald declined to say how much Persa would play on Saturday, preferring to keep that a secret until game time as he has done with Persa’s status every week this season. Persa, however, was more forthright with his analysis of his game readiness.

“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I feel like I could play the whole game.”

After going 2-4 in the games Persa missed, the Wildcats are glad to have their All-Big Ten signal caller back on the field.

“I won’t say it’s too good. It’ll go to his head a little bit,” senior linebacker Bryce McNaul said. “Dan and our entire offense has been successful in the past about controlling the ball and controlling the pace of the game a little bit. That helps us out tremendously on defense when we can kind of get a breather.”

While Persa’s arm shouldn’t have been affected by his injury, whether he can be the same dual threat that he was last year remains to be seen. Persa, who last season risked his body many times to make plays with his feet, said he plans to be more cautious this year.

“I learned a lot from last year,” Persa said. “You’re going to take a lot of hits in the pocket when you don’t have the ball, so when you do have the ball, you want to get as many yards as you can and obviously get down.”

Although Persa agreed with Fitzgerald’s statement that he is very excited to get back on the field, he said he wouldn’t let the excitement of game action affect his play.

“I’m not really that type of guy,” Persa said. “I don’t get too high or too low, just kind of stay even keel. I know I’ll be excited, but I’m not really a rah-rah guy to begin with.”

Though Persa will play this weekend, it’s not clear whether he will start. He was listed on NU’s depth chart as the co-starter, sharing the spot with sophomore Kain Colter. As the starter in NU’s first three games, Colter has thrown for 390 yards and rushed for 237 more with a combined five touchdowns. He excelled in the Cats’ first two games of the season, but was pulled from NU’s 21-14 loss to Army after he was largely ineffective through the first three and a half quarters.

Senior guard Ben Burkett seemed to suggest that he will be excited to see how Colter will be used on the field while Persa is under center.

“We have so many offensive weapons and a lot of speed, a lot of guys who can make those plays on the perimeter, just giving the ball to them and watch them run,” Burkett said. “That’s something that’s special, and I think we need to take advantage of it.”

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