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Monday, August 29, 2011
NU not sure if Persa will start Saturday

By Scott Powers

EVANSTON, Ill. -- The news out of Northwestern on Monday was there was no news on quarterback Dan Persa.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald still was unsure who his starting quarterback would be come Saturday’s season opener against Boston College.

“Danny’s doing great,” Fitzgerald said. “He keeps improving every day. I feel confident he’ll continue going down that track, and we’ll see how things go and progress throughout the course of the week.

Dan Persa
Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa was ready for media day, but will he be ready for the season opener?
“Like I said I think 1,000,432 times, he’s a guy that’s going to do everything he can in his power to get healthy and be ready to play. If he’s ready to go, he’ll start. If he’s not, he won’t. Earth-shattering statement there.”

Fitzgerald said he feels confident whether Persa or sophomore quarterback Kain Colter takes the field on Saturday.

“We have certainty for us at the quarterback position,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re good. We’re great, actually. We have full confidence in whatever direction we go.”

Persa was unavailable for comment on Monday. He was expected to speak with Northwestern’s other captains during Monday’s press conference, but he had to attend a rehab session.

Kickers decision: While there’s still a question regarding the quarterback position, Fitzgerald did make a decision about his kickers.

Sophomore Jeff Budzien will be the Wildcats starting placekicker, and junior Steve Flaherty will be in charge of kickoffs.

“Frankly, neither one of them lost the job,” Fitzgerald said. “They both did a really good job. I couldn’t give Steve a specific reason why he’s not doing placekicking. I couldn’t give Jeff a specific reason. I have great confidence in both of them to execute either job.”

Freshmen starters: Wide receiver Christian Jones and superback Jack Konopka were the only two true freshmen to make Northwestern’s two-deep depth chart.

Jones was an ESPNU Top 150 recruit, but tore his ACL before his high school senior season and Arkansas, Baylor, Stanford and others backed off recruiting him.

“Ooh, the injury affected recruiting,” Jones said prior to Signing Day last season “It put a lot of pressure on the schools recruiting me. It was one thing to realize whether they would stay with me or not because of the injury. They went over the stats and facts about it whether I was good enough to stick with me. Stanford and a bunch of others schools caused me to reevaluate who was really there for me.”

Fitzgerald stayed with him, and now Northwestern looks to benefit from it.

“Christian was up here this summer,” Fitzgerald said. “I think that time really helped him from the standpoint of maturation in our offense, be able to throw and do different things with our quarterbacks and what those guys do in the summer. I thought he was able to gain a lot of trust from the quarterbacks. It showed from the minute he stepped on the field.”

Konopka, who played at Fremd High School, was recruited as an offensive tackle, but he was moved to superback out of necessity.

“We had a couple guys a little dinged up,” Fitzgerald said. “He took the role, grasped it and ran with it.”

Opening success: Fitzgerald has never lost a season opener in his five years as a head coach. The Wildcats also haven’t faced much competition in their season openers.

Their last five season openers have been against Vanderbilt (2010), Towson (2009), Syracuse (2008), Northeastern (2007) and Miami-Ohio (2009). Only Miami-Ohio had a winning record the season before playing Northwestern and all of them had losing seasons the season of their game against the Wildcats.

Boston College is coming off a 7-6 season and a bowl appearance.

“Toughest challenge we’ve had in an opener since I’ve been coach,” Fitzgerald said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Injury report: Redshirt freshman linebacker Collin Ellis recently broke his hand and is expected to be out at least two weeks.