When Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald called quarterback Dan Persa a Heisman Trophy candidate this spring on a conference call with reporters, the comment gained traction regionally and even a little bit nationally.
Northwestern's push for Persa is now going beyond a few words.
The school on Monday launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for the All-Big Ten signal-caller. Northwestern's newly enhanced marketing team is organizing the campaign with the athletic department.
Interestingly enough, the first piece of Persa propaganda will appear outside Big Ten country, on a stretch of roadway near the ESPN mothership in Bristol, Conn. Northwestern is hoping to put Persa's name on the radar for my ESPN colleagues, who help shape opinion and hype for national awards.
Another Persa billboard will appear on the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago. Northwestern also sent 7-pound dumbbells to media members, a nod to Persa's jersey number and his success in the weight room. The campaign slogan, "PersaStrong," stems from Persa being included in colleague Bruce Feldman's list of the nation's strongest college football players.
From the Chicago Sun-Times:
"You grow up thinking it would be cool to win the Heisman, but when [your name comes up], it's a surreal thing,” Persa said Thursday.
Heisman campaigns and gimmicks seem to be a bit outdated, but there are certain cases where they make sense. Denard Robinson doesn't need a Heisman campaign (although media members would appreciate the free shoelaces). Neither do nationally known players like Andrew Luck, LaMichael James and Kellen Moore.
But it's more difficult for a Northwestern player to put his name on the national radar for the Heisman. Like it or not (I certainly don't), preseason hype plays a role in these awards. While Big Ten fans know Persa, and the bittersweet end to his 2010 season -- major injury suffered while throwing the game-winning touchdown pass -- resonated nationally, he still could benefit from a marketing boost.
The campaign also shows that Northwestern is willing to promote its best players. Northwestern's marketing upgrades last summer were long overdue, and any effort to generate more buzz and potentially help the school's attendance problem is a good thing.
How realistic are Persa's Heisman chances? Not great right now. He'll have to show he's still the same player after a long rehab, put up big numbers in September and, perhaps more importantly, put Northwestern in a position to contend for a Big Ten championship.
Even then, it'll be tough to join Luck and others in the lead pack.
Still, Northwestern's proactive approach is encouraging after too many years of standing pat in promotions.