Battling It Out

Northwestern's promising 2010 season came to a halt, when Dan Persa suffered a season-ending achillies injury against Iowa. The Wildcats finished the season 0-3 with backup Evan Watkins as starter, and true freshman Kain Colter earning significant playing time. With Dan Persa still out, each quarterback hopes to make naming the starter a little bit harder for Pat Fitzgerald.

There's an old saying in football that you're always one play from being the starter. Those words are often given to players in reserve roles, who are reminded that injuries can change the circumstances around a team quickly.

Words have never been truer for Northwestern backup quarterbacks Evan Watkins and Kain Colter, who found themselves suddenly taking on major roles in 2010 when things took a turn for the worst. On his way to a First-Team All-Big Ten season, Dan Persa fell to the ground in pain, as he tore his achillies against Iowa. That was unfortunately the "one play" that coaches refer to. After that, Watkins and Colter were thrown into the fire.

As a redshirt freshman, Evan Watkins was named the starting quarterback for the Wildcats, entering one of the biggest games Northwestern has played in—that being the Wrigleyville Classic. Watkins finished out the season's final three games as starting quarterback, with Colter occasionally filling in to change the pace. Despite the team's struggles during those final three games—all losses—each was able to gain valuable experience, which has carried over to this spring.

As spring football practice has officially begun, and a new team has taken the field, one thing remains the same. Dan Persa is still not in full pads, and the quarterback situation is still uncertain.

After Monday's practice, Fitzgerald said that Northwestern hopes to find a starting quarterback—later adding that he meant for the spring. While all odds are good for Dan Persa to complete his rehab on time and regain status as starting quarterback, the returning sophomore Kain Colter knows to be ready.

"The coaches talked about how we all expect Dan to come back, but you can never be sure," Colter said. "We all have to come back and try to be ready to fill the role that Dan had, and be that starter."

Though both Watkins and Colter finished the season with reps under their belt, neither was deemed the "most-improved" quarterback during the offseason. That honor goes to redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Siemian, who sat out the entire 2010 season. Fitzgerald said Siemian entered the program as a "pencil-neck", but has made the most improvements during the offseason. Since entering the program, Siemian has bulked up 20-lbs., to a 200-lb. frame.

Since Fitzgerald did not officially name a starting quarterback, the spring will become an open tussle for the starting job, as Watkins, Colter, and now Siemian fight the sidelined Dan Persa for his starting job.

As the Northwestern offense was on the field, Persa was as well—only just without a helmet and pads. Persa was wearing a headset, and was speaking with offensive coordinator Mick McCall, as the two discussed each play and helped out Watkins and Colter. During the rest of the Wildcats' practice, Persa spent his time working on his rehabilitation.

While Persa works to rehab his injured achillies, his backups are working to become the starter.

"We all hope that he's going to come back, but at the same time, we want that starting job too," Colter said. "We're all going to work at it and make it hard for the coaches to choose a starter."

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