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August 2011 Archives

Persa's status for Boston College up in the air

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Will he or won't he?

Will Dan Persa start or take any snaps at quarterback Saturday at Boston College or will he sit and make way for sophomore backup Kain Colter?

Is Persa not as healthy as he was telling us during camp and even at Big Ten Media Days two weeks before camp started?

On Monday during the first of coach Pat Fitzgerald's regular press conferences, it was announced that there is a chance Persa won't start against the Eagles. Fitzgerald also said Persa had to be cleared by the team's medical personnel, adding that he wasn't sure what the medical staff would do.

But all along Fitzgerald and Persa have insisted that Persa's right foot has healed and there is nothing else to say.

"We feel confident and we'll see how things go this week," Fitzgerald said. "He's going to do everything in his power to get healthy and get ready to play. If he's ready to go, he'll start. If he's not, he won't. Earth shattering statement right there."

No kidding it was earth shattering. It seemed like a 180 from what everyone had heard all spring and summer and the past two weeks of training camp.

So basically, Fitzgerald said, the team will find out before they leave Friday for Boston whether or not Persa will start and the rest of us will have to wait until just before game time.

After Fitzgerald's portion of the press conference, captains Al Netter, Jordan Mabin and Brian Peters came in for interviews. But Persa, a team captain for the second consecutive year, was absent.

"He's doing rehab," a team spokesperson said.

"The little guy's MIA right now," Peters said.

"I don't know if curious is the right word," Netter said of who might play behind center Saturday morning. "Both are having great reps with the ones, and I think they both are preparing like they're going to be the starting quarterback."

And so we wait until 11 a.m. Saturday to find out.

Persa to start at Boston College

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Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald released the depth chart Friday for next Saturday's game at Boston College.

In no surprise Dan Persa is listed as the starting quarterback with Kain Colter as the backup. But after declaring Jacob Schmidt as the No. 1 tailback last week, Fitzgerald decided to go with listing Mike Trumpy as an "or"  with Schmidt.

Good distractions and Dan Persa hitting the wall

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Is Dan Persa hitting a wall?

The guy who inspired the Heisman Trophy phrase, "Persa Strong" said hitting the wall has happened a few times in training camp the past two weeks, as Persa reached a point where he didn't think he could give any more.

"It's tough to tell with this injury [a ruptured Achilles] how fast it's going to get better. And a lot of times you hit a wall, and the next day you wake up and you do something you couldn't even come close to doing yesterday. It's tough to put limitations or expectations on something like this.

"Every couple days, it was 'Alright, this isn't getting any better.' And then it got strong. It's just up and down."

NU coach Pat Fitzgerald always likes to minimize distractions, but Monday he was happily distracted at the Naval Station Great Lakes practice field. It was the second consecutive year that NU has practiced at the naval base on their way home from Kenosha. The Big Ten Network was also in attendance. After practice, the team had lunch with some sailors.

"It's an honor and priviledge for us to be here around our great Navy," Fitzgerald said. "I thought the guys handled it well. The best part is the lunch. It's a good time to spend time one-on-one with their peers. To know those men and women are defending our country, they are very grateful."

Wildcats' scrimmage by the numbers

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The numbers are in from the Wildcats' scrimmage Saturday in Kenosha at UW-Parkside.

Looks like, statistically speaking, the big cat was receiver Venric Mark with three catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. Mark even looked faster and said after the scrimmage that he worked a lot on his strength and speed conditioning in the offseason. He agreed that he looks faster, because he feels faster.

Fellow receiver Drew Moulton, a sophomore out of Freeland, Mich., also put up decent numbers Saturday with six catches for 34 yards and a touchdown.

It was no surprise that quarterback Dan Persa sat out the scrimmage, as did about 15 other starters. But one of Persa's backups, Evan Watkins, led the four quarterbacks -- Kain Colter, Trevor Siemian and Zack Oliver -- in passing with 82 yards on 8 of 14 passing. Siemian and Oliver both tossed touchdown passes.

Defensively, Davon Custis and Damien Proby led the Wildcats with 6.5 and six tackles, respectively.

Northwestern shows work isn't done yet

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The morning started out with violence. An hour before Northwestern was to play its annual scrimmage at UW-Parkside in Kenosha, Wis., the skies opened up and a downpour ensued with all the requisite lightning and thunder. Once the storm passed, the scrimmage was delayed by only 20 minutes.

Freshman quarterback Zack Oliver saw a good chunk of playing time and tossed a touchdown to Drew Moulton near the end of the scrimmage, and kicker Steve Flaherty knocked in a 50-yard field goal to finish the scrimmage.

The Wildcats' offense scored three touchdowns and three field goals in 12 drives. There were 15 starters who did not play, which is nothing unusal in a scrimmage. And quarterback Dan Persa also was one of those starters who sat out.

"I thought after the delay they came out with a great attitude," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "Probably my biggest negative was the defense. We had come opportunities to make some plays, but we didn't. We have to get the ball back. We have two big weeks left and you have to look at this as the beginning. Two weeks from today we are going to be in the first quarter of our first game [at Boston College]."

The first practice at Northwestern in full pads is always great to watch. It's the first time since March that the guys can go out and hit each other. It really makes you feel like football season is starting.

That said, coach Pat Fitzgerald was pleased with his team's intensity but knows there's a lot of work to do before the Wildcats open the season Sept. 3 at Boston College.

Fitzgerald also gave an update on Jacob Schmidt, who is healthy again after that left ankle injury he suffered against Michigan State last October.

"It's great to have him back. He missed the spring and the last half of [2010]. He has been one of our most consistent, physical players and one of our guys to count on. He walked on to our program and has been an unbelievable representative of our program."


The no-name linebacker corps might be taking shape -- with names. Fitzgerald said Bryce McNaul and Ben Johnson are competing for one of the outside spots, while Collin Ellis and Chi Chi Ariguzo are competing at the other outside spot. The middle spot, i.e. Quentin Davie's replacement, is up for grabs.

McNaul is healthy after off-season shoulder surgery, and Fitzgerald said the key to the senior's success is staying healthy. McNaul told me Thursday that he is probably in the best shape of his life, especially after shoulder surgery last winter.

"Last February they had to clean up my right shoulder and it was kind of less invasive than it sounded. They took my AC joint out -- which apparently I don't need -- and since then its felt great. Never felt better, actually. I couldn't be more exicted to let loose this season because of it."

And what does McNaul think of the defense's expectations?

"We're not in any position to hang our hat on anything we've done in the past," McNaul said. "And shame on us if we even wanted to. No-name linebackers? So be it. We'll show up on Saturday and people will know we're there."

Northwestern held its annual media day Thursday and here are a couple bits: 

Defensive lineman Niko Mafuli has lost weight. When the Wildcats returned from the TicketCity Bowl in January, Mafuli went on a weight loss regimen and went from 338 pounds to about 306. He says he's in the best shape of his life.

Running back Mike Trumpy knows he and backfield mates Adonis Smith, Tyris Jones and Jacob Schmidt, who has recovered from an ankle injury suffered against Michigan State last season, have to protect the ball and take the stress off of quarterback Dan Persa. Trumpy also reports that his right wrist is fully healed.

"I kept doing rehab [on the wrist] during the spring, but its fully healed," Trumpy said. "I think I have a lot more confidence with the offense and that continued into the summer. Dan's an unbelievable athlete and we are going to try and keep the ball in his hands, but if we can take pressure off of him, that would be great."

Persa agrees and said he has told the backs to work on running the ball more efficiently. Persa was the team's second leading rusher last season with over 500 yards.

"Our running game needs to take a step up and I've been impressed with both the O-line and the running backs," Persa said. "I think it's just being more physical and I think that was from last year. Work more as a unit and not put the blame on other people. They took ownership of that and got a chip on their shoulder because people asked, 'Why don't you run the ball?'

"Going through last year I took a big beating at the end of the year. I told [the running backs] many times I don't want to rush for 500 yards, you can have those yards. I don't want to be taking those hits. I take enough of those in the pocket."

Welsh-Ryan floor decision on hold

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Northwestern's athletic department announced late Wednesday afternoon that they are postponing their announcement on which court design will be installed at Welsh-Ryan Arena next month. No date was given on when the decision will be announced.

Dan Persa and the Heisman push

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Quarterback Dan Persa is taking a lot of ribbing from his teammates since the "Dan Persa for Heisman" campaign started a week ago. Between the purple 7-pound dummbells that were sent out to football writers across the country and the billboards on the Kennedy Expressway and the other one in Bristol, Conn. near ESPN headquarters, Persa's teammates have a lot of ammo.

But he probably wouldn't have it any other way.

"My teammates have been making fun of me, but if it gets more attention for our program, then I'm fine with it," Persa said. "I'm sure my parents want me to get [the purple dumbbells] but I don't have them. I didn't come up with this or anything, but anything that gets more attention to our program and gets more people to our games is good."

Persa is back and all seems right with the world in Evanston. Granted, there are still issues that need to be addressed on defense -- coach Pat Fitzgerald brought in former Wildcats linebacker Tim McGarigle to show the 'Cats the way -- and the offensive line seems like one big question mark except for Al Netter, but at least for now Wildcat fans can relax that Persa is getting back to his old self.

On the basketball beat, Wildcat fans should know by Wednesday what the winning court design is for the new floor at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The all-purple court was in second place, last I heard.

Also, coach Bill Carmody picked up another recruit in 6-7 small forward Kale Abrahamson from Des Moines, Iowa. Last month, Abrahamson was offered by Iowa but opted to give Carmody a verbal commitment on Tuesday.

Northwestern's Phillips signs 10-year deal

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          Matching the contract extension that football coach Pat Fitzgerald signed in May, Northwestern announced early Wednesday morning that athletic director Jim Phillips has signed a contract extension to keep him in Evanston until 2020.

            Phillips and Fitzgerald both signed 10-year extensions this year. Phillips' deal officially ends any speculation that he was headed to Illinois to fill its vacant athletic director's position. Phillips is an Illinois alum and was on the university's short list to replace the retired Ron Guenther.

            In a statement, Phillips said he was humbled by the new deal.

            "This is an exciting time for Northwestern athletics [because] we are having unprecedented success on the field and in the classroom," Phillips said. "Very sincerely, I am honored to be able to continue working to provide a world-class experience for all of our student-athletes."

            Phillips was hired at NU in 2008 after serving as Northern Illinois' athletic director. In his short time at NU, Phillips has put the Wildcats on the national stage with his innovative ideas.

            One of his first major projects was spearheading the Illinois-NU football game at Wrigley Field last November. Despite a safety issue that required both offenses to move the ball in the same direction, the Wrigley game still delivered the college bowl-game like atmosphere that Phillips -- and Fitzgerald -- wanted.

            Phillips also hired the university's first-ever marketing chief in June 2010 in Mike Polisky, who served as president of the Chicago Wolves and Chicago Rush. Polisky and the athletic department staff were instrumental in launching the Dan Persa for Heisman Trophy campaign which kicked off on Monday. Polisky and Phillips also helped create the "Chicago's Big Ten Team" slogan for NU to start the 2010 football season, which was advertised on billboards, newspapers and radio ads throughout the area.

            And Phillips also is working on a facilities study, where he hopes to upgrade all of NU's sports and recreation venues. Phillips spent most of the spring and summer travelling to universities across the country to see how their venues compare with NU's. The athletic department may announce in early fall what the results of that study are, and may bring about major overhauls for Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena.

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