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Northwestern’s QB Dan Persa taking baby steps after injury

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Updated: September 10, 2011 12:52AM

On the day Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa took his first snaps from center in nearly nine months since rupturing his right Achilles tendon, he found out some sad news about a former Big Ten foe.

Earlier Monday, Detroit Lions rookie running back and former ­Illinois star Mikel Leshoure tore his Achilles during practice and is out for the season. Persa can sympathize with Leshoure.

“That’s awful; I feel bad for him,” Persa said during the Wildcats’ first practice in Evanston. “I’m sure he’ll be fine in the long run, and hopefully he reaches out to me or I reach out to him. I’d like to talk to him
because my road wasn’t easy. I made mistakes along the way, and I wish someone gave me more advice.”

Persa said he felt a little rusty and a bit odd about being back at practice after such a long layoff. Typically, the recovery and rehabilitation time from an Achilles injury is nearly a year. Persa is back at 100 percent in much less time.

During his first 11-on-11 drill since November, Persa was 2-for-2 passing. But during a footwork exercise in the end zone, he seemed slightly tentative. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall said he doesn’t think there is anything to it.

“It was the same speed, but it was the first time he’s done that in nine months,” McCall said. “He had to get some confidence back.”

Overall, Persa thought his first practice was “weird” — and rightly so. He spent the last three games of the 2010 season watching his teammates from the sidelines, either on crutches or using a wheeled cart. And once spring practice started in March, he was relegated to a coaching role for backups Kain Colter, Evan Watkins and Trevor Siemian.

“At first, I was real ginger [with the foot],’’ Persa said. ‘‘[But] as I got into team situations, I stopped thinking about it and let my body do the work. It felt good, but I didn’t do too much.’’

Persa still is going through rehab
for his Achilles and is working to get into game-day shape. McCall and coach Pat Fitzgerald will work with team doctors and athletic trainers to monitor Persa closely during practice, not only during the preseason but during the regular season.

So it remains to be seen whether Persa is going to run the ball as much as he did last season, when he was the Wildcats’ second-leading rusher with 519 yards.

“We want to have balance every year, but we’re not going to bang our head against the wall,” Fitzgerald said.

Practice was moved indoors when a steady rain pelted the area and lightning was spotted. Fitzgerald’s main concern early on was getting through the kicking periods outdoors, which the Wildcats did

“We didn’t need the elements
today,” Fitzgerald said. “We needed to go out there and execute and coach some guys up today.”

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