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Northwestern’s Dan Persa to play vs. Illini, but how much?

Updated: January 8, 2012 1:15AM

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he fully expects quarterback Dan Persa to play against No. 24 Illinois in the Wildcats’ Big Ten opener Saturday in Champaign.

But forget about asking Fitzgerald for more specifics on how much Persa, who suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon last November, will play.

‘‘I don’t let you know anything, but I do let you come to practice, and I can pat myself on the back for that,’’ Fitzgerald told the media at his weekly news conference Monday. ‘‘I fully anticipate Dan will play. [How much] will be determined on how the week goes. He’s had a good five-week period.’’

Persa has missed six games — the last three of last season and the first three of this season — since suffering the injury, but he worked all offseason with the mind-set that he was going to play right away.

‘‘I played plenty to remember how it was,’’ Persa said. ‘‘Every week I was preparing like I was going to start, and this week is no different.’’

More returns

Defensive tackle Jack DiNardo is back on the depth chart after missing two games with a leg injury. DiNardo was injured at Boston College and missed the games against Eastern Illinois and Army.

Freshman linebacker Collin Ellis also returned to the two-deep after sitting out the first three games with a hand injury.

‘‘It brings a lot of effort to that side of the ball, and that’s going to give us extra help,’’ cornerback Jordan Mabin said.


Fitzgerald said he doesn’t have to do much to get NU motivated for the game Saturday after Illinois beat the Wildcats 48-27 last November at Wrigley Field. After that game, former Illini linebacker Martez Wilson said Illinois, not NU, was ‘‘Chicago’s Big Ten Team.’’

‘‘They won a football game, and sometimes you let emotions get the best of you,’’ Fitzgerald said, referring to Wilson’s comment. ‘‘But if I’m not mistaken, [the phrase] was trademarked to Northwestern. But it is what it is.’’

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