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Northwestern set to unveil Heisman campaign for Dan Persa

Northwestern quarterback Dan Persis fully healed from ruptured Achilles tendhis left foot. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media

Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa is fully healed from a ruptured Achilles tendon in his left foot. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 5, 2011 5:19PM



When Dan Persa was growing up in eastern Pennsylvania, he had that Heisman dream.

On Monday, Northwestern’s senior quarterback is going to take the first step toward that crazy dream. The university’s athletic department, in conjunction with its marketing staff, will officially unveil the Dan Persa for the Heisman campaign.

“You grow up thinking it would be cool to win the Heisman, but when [your name comes up], it’s a surreal thing,” Persa said Thursday at Big Ten Media Days at the McCormick Place Hyatt.

According to NU marketing chief Mike Polisky, the athletic department shipped two 7-pound purple dumbbells to about 80 football writers across the country Friday. The dumbbells’ weight reflects Persa’s jersey number and the fact that Persa was named the team’s “Iron Cat” as the Wildcats’ strongest player.

Polisky said the campaign also will feature two billboards of Persa, one on the Kennedy Expy. at Kimball and another on Riverside Drive in Bristol, Conn., near ESPN headquarters.

The billboards harken back to the “Joey Heisman” campaign for Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, who was featured on a billboard in Times Square in 2001. Harrington finished fourth in that year’s Heisman voting.

A Twitter handle also has been set up — @persastrong — and a website, Persastrong.com, will be launched.

“We had to wait for the media to start talking about [Persa being a Heisman candidate],” Polisky said. “If his name had not come up, then we wouldn’t have done it. We’re hopeful to grab some attention, and we hope he has the type of season we expect him to have.”

Persa, fully healed from a season-ending ruptured Achilles tendon in his left foot, is considered a Heisman dark horse. The front-runners are Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Oregon running back LaMichael James.

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore and South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore are the other top candidates.

Good and scary

Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald thinks the newly rehabbed Persa has the potential to be “scary” good. Even though he missed the Wildcats’ last three games, Persa still led the Football Bowl Subdivision in completion percentage (73.5) last season, breaking the Big Ten and NU season records. Persa threw for 2,581 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Despite getting hammered when he ran the option, Persa was the Wildcats’ second-leading rusher with 519 yards and nine touchdowns.

So a healthy Persa, mentally and physically, is ready to break out — and Fitzgerald can’t wait to watch.

“He said, ‘Coach, I’m in a different place mentally, and when I look back, I’m such a better quarterback mentally and a better leader than I was last year,’ and to me that’s scary as to how good he can be,” Fitzgerald said. “He is chomping at the bit to play football again, and I couldn’t be more happy and excited for him. I think he’s tired of answering the questions of ‘How are you?’ He wants to get out and go play.”

What makes Persa’s recovery so remarkable is that a ruptured Achilles usually takes 12 to 18 months to heal, Fitzgerald said. Persa is at 100 percent eight months after his Nov. 13 surgery.

The Wildcats’ 21-17 come-from-behind victory Nov. 13 against Iowa at Ryan Field is bittersweet on so many levels. Persa’s injury came in the fourth quarter when he threw the winning touchdown to Demetrius Fields, but he was never hit.

Persa’s numbers after the game were phenomenal: career highs in passes (43), completions (32) and passing yards (318). Persa also accounted for three touchdowns, two rushing and one passing. That performance earned him his first Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week award.

“He’ll tell you that that’s when the game started to slow down for him, that week,” Fitzgerald said. “He was really starting to hit his stride. He’d been through his first start and his first Big Ten game, and he’d been through playing well. He’d been through playing poorly and had run the roller coaster.”

At least he went out with a bang.

Weatherman

Persa knows what to expect now, and those around him know what to expect, too. The unknown factor is gone.

“I think last year was the anticipation of the unknown, and this year I know what the Big Ten is going to mean and what training camp is going to
bring,” Persa said. “[The biggest challenge] is going to be getting the
confidence back in my leg to plant and make cuts and not have a worry in my
mind.”

Persa is tired of having to answer questions about his left foot. It’s fine, he insists, but maybe the injury and its aftermath have a bright side: Persa said he can predict the weather now.

“Anytime it rains, it gets sore,” he said. “It’s funny because I thought
[Wednesday night] it was going to rain — and, of course, it did.”



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