Updated: January 16, 2012 10:36AM
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa comes off as stoic and serious, but receiver Jeremy Ebert isn’t shy about letting people know how Persa really is — especially on the dance floor.
“Dan is a phenomenal dancer,” said Ebert, who is Persa’s roommate and worked out daily with him in the offseason. “Dan dances with the ladies pretty well, and that is definitely his hidden talent. It just comes naturally to him. I know, it’s hard to picture, but it’s pretty funny and fun to watch.”
Ebert and Persa have made for a dynamic combination the last two seasons and will end their college careers when the Wildcats face Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 31 in Houston.
“I’m just enjoying the time with the guys because, for a lot of us, it’s the last time we’re going to play football in this environment,” Persa said. “So we’re just enjoying it.”
A bowl victory would be an emotional send-off for Persa, who endured a strenuous rehabilitation from a ruptured Achilles tendon that included a setback in June.
“I don’t know if I’d do anything differently because I wanted to get myself back as quick as I could,” Persa said. “Maybe a little earlier on I would have taken it slower, and I had that setback that caused me to miss those first three games.”
That injury sidelined Persa for the Wildcats’ first three games. He didn’t make his season debut until Oct. 1 at Illinois, a 38-35 Illini victory that was part of the Wildcats’ five-game losing streak.
The Illinois game is one that resonates in Ebert’s mind.
“He just stepped up and made big throws,” Ebert said. “He had [four] touchdowns alone, and he was making plays and taking hits. He wasn’t full-go, but we knew we had him back. And once he went down [Persa left the game with soreness in his Achilles], we struggled.”
During the skid, Persa had probably one of his best games against Michigan, throwing for 331 yards on a career-high 32 completions.
In a 28-6 victory over Rice on Nov. 12, Persa had career highs in yards (372) and touchdowns (four) and the longest touchdown pass of his career, a 90-yarder to Ebert.
In nine games this season, Persa has completed 193 of 260 passes (74 percent) for 2,163 yards with 17 touchdowns. He led the Big Ten in passing yards per game (240.3) and was second in pass efficiency (160.3) and total offense (2,234 yards).
“It was tough because, for most of the season, I was playing pretty much on one leg,” Persa said. “I thought I had a stretch where I was playing at a high level and there were a couple of throws I wanted back, but statistically it was just as good — if not better — than last year, passingwise.”
Before rupturing the Achilles last season, Persa led the Football Bowl Subdivision in completion percentage at 73.5, breaking the Big Ten and Northwestern single-season records.
In their bowl game, the Wildcats will face a Texas A&M team that is in flux. Aggies coach Mike Sherman was fired after the regular season, and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter was named interim coach. This week, DeRuyter was hired by Fresno State. He will coach the Aggies (6-6) in the bowl.
“They’re a good team and they lost six games but not by very much, and I think their defense is real fast and athletic and they have a powerful offense,” Persa said. “It will be a challenge for us.”