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Dan Persa likely to start if healthy

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald was still unsure as of Wednesday who his starting quarterback would be in next week's season opener.

Fitzgerald has yet to make a decision between senior Dan Persa and sophomore Kain Colter because Persa, who ruptured his Achilles tendon last season, hasn't been completely cleared by Northwestern's medical staff. If Persa is deemed OK, he is expected to start against Boston College.

Fitzgerald planned to talk with Persa and Northwestern's medical staff next week before making his final decision.

"I think No. 1, it's health, safety and well-being," Fitzgerald said after Wednesday's practice. "You know I've said this a million times. I would rather put a guy out a day late or a month late than a day early. I'll err on the side of our medical staff."

Persa felt confident he would be the starter next week, but he also knew what was at stake if the wrong decision was made.

"I think it's more on me more than anything else," said Persa, who tore his right Achilles tendon against Iowa on Nov. 13, 2010. "If I say I'm OK, I'm OK. I think it would be stupid of me to go out there if I wasn't ready. I'm not going to make any decisions just yet.

"It's tough to imagine anything else [other than starting next week], but I'm going to keep talking to the doctors and going with their advice. The last thing I want to do is have a setback and start over."

Despite feeling the best he's felt since suffering the injury, Persa still hadn't convinced himself he was ready for a game.

"I just want to do a little more stuff to prove to myself I'm ready to go," Persa said. "I feel stronger every day. I think we're going to keep doing what I'm doing.

"I think around Tuesday if I am where I need to be, I'll start to up the reps and I'll be doing a lot more stuff."

Persa and Colter, who played in three games last season, have been splitting reps nearly in half during practice, and Northwestern has held Persa back from putting too much stress on his leg.

"He's getting better every day," Fitzgerald said of Persa. "We talked to him last night a little bit. He's feeling as good as he has been. He's doing more and more each day. To me, that's encouraging. It's not the Achilles; it's the strength and conditioning level. He's so close. He's really close. I look forward to seeing him next week.

"You're making way too big a deal out of it now."

Persa has been in a constant grind since beginning his rehab. Throughout fall camp, he's been arriving to Northwestern's facilities at 6:30 a.m. and leaving at 9 p.m. The only people who are there longer than he is are the team's coaches.

Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall thought the key for Persa to be able to play would be his mobility in the Wildcats' offense.

"The biggest thing in our offense, he's got to be a threat to run and go with it," McCall said. "When he plays, he's still got to be a threat. He's not going to be like he was before. We all know that, and he knows that, but he's still got to be a threat.

"Yeah, he's still our guy. When he's ready to play, he's going to play. ... Will it be next week? We don't know. Your guess is as good as mine."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.