Persa Strong

It has officially begun. Next week, Northwestern will launch the "Persa Strong" campaign with billboards in Chicago and Bristol, CT. Dan Persa is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. After a long offseason of rehabilitation, Persa is now "100-percent healed" from his ruptured achillies. This season, he'll have to prove the hype is real while dealing with the target on his back.

"I think it makes me have to prepare even more," Dan Persa said of the high expectations. "Coaches aren't going to be wondering how I'm going to play, they know. "They've seen me play last year, they can game plan, they can scheme for me. It's going to challenge me and I'm looking forward to it."

Last season was Persa's first as a full-time starter and he did not disappoint. Persa completed 73.5 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,581 and 15 touchdowns in 10 games. He earned first-team all-conference honors in the process.

Going into the 2011 season, everyone has heard about Persa by now. Persa was named to watch lists for the Walter Camp Award, the Manning Award, the Davey O'Brien Award, and has also had his name mentioned for Heisman Trophy considerations.

Persa admits he is excited about the recognition, but is keeping it all in perspective.

"Obviously, you grow up thinking it would be cool to win the Heisman and be named to the Heisman," he said. "When it happens, it's a surreal thing. That's why I don't put too much thought into it. It's cool but it's kind of out of my control."

As the hype keeps adding up, Persa is thrilled, but still the same hard-working guy.

"It's exciting to be honest," said Persa. "It's an honor to be named to these awards (watch lists) but at the same time, I've been doing the same things I've done to be successful in the past."

However, everything isn't exactly the same for Persa. Entering this season, the senior admits he is stronger mentally than ever before. Persa credits that to his rehabilitation process, where he was forced to cope with a bad situation.

"There are ups and downs," he said. "You've got to find a way to stay positive in negative situations and I think I've learned to do that."

During his time away from the field, Persa was still focused on football. He spent hours in the weight room and spent a lot of time studying film.

Since his injury in November, Persa has put all his efforts into a timely return in 2011. When times were rough, Persa turned to his father for support.

"Anytime I had a down day, I'd call him and he'd hype me back up and keep me positive," Persa said. "Especially with an injury like this, the main thing is to keep positive."

Expectations on Persa are high as preseason recognition continues to roll in. Persa is staying level-headed, and has gotten some advice from his coach, Pat Fitzgerald, once a highly-decorated football player.

"He just said take it with a grain of salt," Persa said. "Things will come but at the end of the day, you can only control yourself and how you work about it."

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