Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thanks, Dan.

Northwestern played a football game today against the University if Iowa and defeated the Hawkeyes 21-17 thanks to a fantastic fourth quarter rally led by quarterback Dan Persa. Unfortunately, Persa was hurt on the same play he threw the game’s winning touchdown and will be out for the rest of the season. As I think of the amazing year that Dan Persa has had, I want to say thanks and hope that his warrior spirit carries over to his backup Evan Watkins and the rest of NU’s student-athletes.

Dan Persa is obviously a talented football player, but my admiration for him isn’t simply for that. It’s for the type of competitor he is. Because this is a basketball blog I’ll make this connection—Dan Persa is the football version of my all time favorite NU basketball player Jitim Young—people called both too small or said they didn’t have certain athletic abilities, but they both played at an All-Big Ten level because they competed relentlessly.

That relentless competiveness is a special thing. Pat Fitzgerald talked about wanting 22 Dan Persa’s and some fans didn’t like his comments, but it’s a simple fact is that Dan’s a rare type of kid. That’s not to see NU doesn’t have other talented players or good leaders on the roster, but the way Persa competes has simply been at another level. His willingness to do whatever was necessary and put his team on his back was truly remarkable. To be honest, I think much of the time NU’s offensive calls have been rather predicable and unimaginative, but Persa has made up for this with his amazing ability to stay cool under pressure and make something out of nothing. The final drive today and the final drive in NU’s forth quarter comeback at Minnesota were both made in large part by Dan Persa’s amazing instincts. His ability to avoid pressure and find open space or open receivers saved the ‘Cats on multiple occasions this season.

Now, Dan won’t be able to save the ‘Cats with his legs again till 2011, but I know he’ll still make a positive impact. That’s just the type of leader he is. He won’t feel sorry for himself, instead I know he’ll do everything in his power to help make sure Evan Watkins is ready to play against Illinois, against Wisconsin, and in a bowl game. Let’s not count Watkins out either. Sure, he’s only 3-of-7 passing this season, but he made a big third down throw in what turned out to be the game winning drive against Indiana.

You also have to credit NU’s coaches who helped get Persa ready to step in for Mike Kafka last year and got Kafka ready to step in for C.J. Bacher the year before. Clearly, Mick McCann knows how to develop quality quarterbacks. I just hope McCall too takes a lesson from Persa and doesn’t play it safe. Sure, Persa’s injury hurts, but if he’d played conservative and scared all season NU would only have 3 wins. Instead, his fearless play has NU at 7-3. There will be a temptation to keep Watkins in a safety net thanks to his zero-experience backups, but NU can’t win that way. They need to be aggressive. Plus, with Watkins own limited experience giving him rollouts where he can run or pass makes great sense to me. Therefore, I hope McCall and Watkins both have a little Dan Persa in them and display the fearlessness necessary to lead the ‘Cats to victory.

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