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Give #PersaStrong his due

BY JORDAN GARRETSON | OCTOBER 17, 2011 7:20 AM

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Micah Hyde is disappointed to see Dan Persa go.

"He's a great player. He loves to compete," Hyde said on Oct. 15, after the Hawkeyes dealt with Northwestern's dynamic quarterback for the final time.

"It's good that he's gone, but it's unfortunate, too."

Unfortunate?

The same Persa that came on in relief and guided Northwestern to an upset that dashed Iowa's hopes of an undefeated season in 2009?

The same Persa that accounted for more than 350 yards of offense in upsetting a ranked Hawkeye team for the second year in a row in 2010?

The same Persa that nearly led an all-too familiar comeback against Iowa on Oct. 15?

"It's fun playing against somebody like that, because it makes you better," Hyde said. "You want to play against the best competition week-in and week-out, because it makes you better."

It's even simpler for me. Persa is a really fun player to watch.

I'll be sad to see him go, too, even two years after he helped crash the Hawkeyes' hopes of an undefeated season on my birthday, during my mom's first Kinnick Stadium experience. I should probably hate him, right?

But how can you not appreciate the toughest player in college football?

Persa finished the game against Iowa Saturday 31-of-40 for 246 yards — a little more than 11 months removed from a ruptured Achilles, an injury that can take as long as 18 months to fully recover from.

He underwent surgery three hours after suffering the injury. The rehabilitation was arduous. Five a.m. wakeups, excruciating sled workouts, steady progression from the StairMaster to jogging to eventually returning to the field and again giving opposing coaches and players headaches. Persa called it "the hardest nine months of my life."

Still, come next April's NFL draft, you can forget about everything he's done — all the experts will. Persa's name won't be mentioned among the top available quarterbacks. It likely won't be mentioned much at all.

A league that puts so much stock into measurables won't talk about Persa's jaw-dropping strength — he's a 6-1, 210-pounder that benches 365 pounds, squats 520, and hang-cleans 315.

Instead, they'll say he's too small to be an NFL quarterback. His arm is average. He's a product of Northwestern's offensive system.

Even as Persa is predictably overlooked and forgotten about by the talking heads, we should appreciate him for what he is — a great example of the good left in college football during an era in which that good is increasingly more difficult to find.

He's a player who competes as hard as he possibly can on every single down. He doesn't just try hard, he plays well. He was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the league's coaches last season — even after missing Northwestern's final three games. He's a dedicated student, earning two-straight Academic All-Big Ten Honors. And during the brief time I spent with him last summer in Chicago, he come off as a genuinely nice, polite guy.

Sure, Northwestern will be OK after Persa is gone. Sophomore Kain Colter appears a talented heir.

It wasn't even the end of the third quarter Oct. 15 when the whispers in the Kinnick Stadium press box became audible.

"He's going to be better than Persa …"

Colter is flashier. Almost undoubtedly more athletic. His versatility is superior, demonstrated by his 147 all-purpose yards between rushing and receiving — not to mention his 44 passing yards.

But he has a long way to go to match up with Persa's grit. That's not a jab at Colter so much as it is a reflection of Persa.

Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg offered a simple answer when asked about Persa.

"He's a stud," Vandenberg replied.

Enough said.

Follow DI Pregame Editor Jordan Garretson on Twitter.


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