Bowl win fitting 'final chapter' for Dan Persa

EVANSTON, Ill. — Dan Persa wants his legacy at Northwestern to go beyond wins and losses and individual records.

More than anything, Persa hopes he has helped change the way Wildcats players approach their craft. The quarterback set an example early in his career as the team's top weight-room performer and reinforced his reputation as the team's hardest worker while rehabbing a ruptured Achilles' tendon during the winter, spring and summer.

"My outlook is there's always going to be somebody better out there, and you're going to have to outwork somebody if you want to go anywhere," Persa told ESPN.com after Monday's practice. "You can't just show up. That's the kind of thing I wanted to leave, making football a priority and finding a way to give it everything you've got and never regretting, 'Man, I wish I did this or did that.'

"Just do it all."

Persa has done plenty during his time at Northwestern, particularly in the last two seasons as the team's starting quarterback. He has seen changes in the team's dedication to the game, and expects those to continue after he has departed the program.

But has Persa been rewarded for all his hard work?

After carrying the team through the first 10 games last fall, Persa watched from the sideline as Northwestern suffered blowout losses against Illinois and Wisconsin, and then dropped the TicketCity Bowl to Texas Tech. This year he dealt with lingering effects from the Achilles' as well as other ailments, and still led the Big Ten in passing average (240.3) and led the nation in completion percentage (74.2).

Yet the team went 6-6, largely because of a defense that couldn't get off of the field.

"That's a tough question for me to answer," Persa said when asked if he deserved more. "Obviously, it's disappointing the way we lost six games this year, but I don't know. I'm more worried about we could have done more than whatever our rewards would have been."

There's still one more reward out there, a bowl win, Northwestern's first since the 1949 Rose. Persa wraps up his college career Saturday against Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

The senior says he's as healthy as he has been all season, benefiting from the added time without a game.

"We've got one more chapter of the book, one more story to tell," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "The body of work at this point speaks for itself, but to be the quarterback and to be the leader who gets the 63-year-old monkey off our back would be one heck of a final chapter to, in my opinion, a career that has been pretty magical and pretty special."

Persa is on track to set several individual milestones in the bowl game. He needs just 32 pass yards for 5,000 in his career and 277 total offensive yards for 6,000 in his career. His career passing efficiency mark of 157.47 would rank first in Big Ten history, ahead of Ohio State's Troy Smith (157.1 rating), and first in NCAA history among quarterbacks who completed 400-499 career passes.

Most impressive, he should set the NCAA's all-time career completion percentage record even if he has a miserable performance in Houston. Persa, who has a career completions rate of 73 percent, needs 19 attempts to meet the minimum qualifying standard for pass attempts per game. He could fail to complete any of the 19 passes and still break Colt Brennan's NCAA completions record (70.4 percent). Persa hasn't completed less than 62 percent of his passes since being named the starter, so as long as he attempts 19 passes against the Aggies, he'll get the record.

While Persa admits it would be "cool" to have the record, he'd much rather go out a winner. He hasn't won his last game since his freshman year of high school, as his high school team lost the state title in both his junior and senior seasons.

"Walking off the field and being happy with what we left behind in the last game, it'd mean a lot," he said.

Football can be an unforgiving game, and Persa's senior season hasn't gone according to script. But he still has a chance to go out as a winner.

"As the leader," Fitzgerald said, "that would be a heck of a way to finish for him."