Dan Persa seemed invincible in his time at Northwestern. Yes, even when he was slowed by injuries last year, Persa was always #PersaStrong.
Extremely gritty. Super resilient. Team-first. A true leader.
To be sure, the Wildcats 2011 season was made worse because Persa was never completely healthy. It always felt like a 2010 Dan Persa would have won Northwestern a few of those games the team lost late. Not that the experience was bad for Kain Colter or the rest of the team. You are dealt the hand you are given.
But the Wildcats moved on. And, now, so must Persa.
Thursday, the NFL Draft begins and Dan Persa — along with notably Drake Dunsmore, Jeremy Ebert and Jordan Mabin — will be wondering if their names will be called during the three-day extravaganza.
Northwestern is not some pro powerhouse (although it definitely has more pros than you would think, as marked by the wall inside the football center on campus). But there might be a few more photos to add to the Nicolet Football Center walls after this weekend.
The one prospect we all believe deserves a close look during the Draft from NFL scouts with a late-round pick is Dan Persa. He embodied everything that Northwestern was about for his five years in purple. Having Persa drafted would seemingly validate everything Northwestern’s winningest senior class had been about. Fair or not, Persa came to embody Northwestern football the last two years.
He embodied an inner toughness and resiliency that everyone watching had to admire. When he was healthy in 2010, it seemed that he could escape anything. Even his dying breath in that season was a game-winning touchdown. This was the kind of player that Northwestern fans came to love. Persa was a guy that would do anything for his team.
His numbers did not hurt either.
Last year, a decidedly worse and more inconsistent year than his stellar junior season, Persa still completed 73.4 percent of his passes and racked up 2,376 yards in 10 games with 17 touchdowns against seven interceptions. His hallmark 2010 year was very similar. Persa completed 73.5 percent of his passes for 2,581 yards in 10 games with 15 touchdowns against four interceptions. He added 519 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns along with more than a few great escapes.
It was clear that in Northwestern’s offense, Persa could do everything asked of him.
Of course, Northwestern hardly runs a pro style offense. The Wildcats offense is about getting rid of the ball quickly and working out of the shotgun. Persa has not had to make many of the difficult throws — namely the out routes or deep throws that NFL quarterbacks have to be able to make mostly from under center. Back at the Shriner’s East-West All-Star Game in February, Persa’s work under center was what was getting the most scrutiny.
Now with Draft week finally here, there are still plenty of questions scouts have for Persa. The question is: will it be enough to get him drafted?
Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune asked ESPN analyst Todd McShay about Persa and the other Northwestern draft prospects… the results were not kind to the men in purple.
Here is what McShay said:
I want to like Persa, but as an NFL prospect he is limited. He’s 5-11 and change, 210 pounds. He is such a good competitor and can create with his feet. He will get a look and have a chance to compete for a roster spot. He’s a good enough athlete to get involved with special teams. He’s the kind of guy you want on your team, but I don’t know that he fits into the NFL from a skills perspective.
And that is the ultimate question with Persa. Can he overcome some of his physical shortcomings to be an NFL player? Can his intangibles win out?
It seems as if this has been the question haunting Persa since he was in high school. It is likely why Penn State, the team Persa and his family grew up cheering for, passed over him as an All-State quarterback in the middle of Pennsylvania. And, again, this is the question Persa has to answer.
There is probably no doubting that his heart and his determination are there to play at the next level. But NFL scouts are kind of an interesting bunch. Physical tools and “fitting the mold” matter as much as on-field production when it comes to talent evaluation. You will see many of the same comments from scouts as you do in the article I linked to in the previous sentence from Vic Ketchman of Packers.com. This is the reality Persa is entering into.
If there is one guy that can overcome it — in the right situation — it is Persa.
Remember, Persa started off as a special teams player at Northwestern because he just wanted to get on the field so bad. He became the “Top Cat” for his weight room prowess. Persa is the kind of guy that some team will take a chance on just to have in the locker room, pushing other young players to be better.
And, once you get him on the practice field, maybe that will be enough to convince some coach somewhere out there to put him for a play or two.
All someone has to do is take the chance.