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Persa-verance: ’06 Henry Winner One of College Football’s Best

Written by: on Friday, January 14th, 2011. Follow Don Leypoldt on Twitter.


Note: Originally appeared in the Maxwell Football Club’s program for the 26th Jim Henry Banquet held January 13, 2011

By Don Leypoldt

Remember the story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den?

Daniel Vaughn (Dan) Persa, the 2006 Jim Henry Award winner, former Pennsylvania 4A Prep Player of the Year and current dual-threat, stand out Northwestern quarterback, has stood in that (Nittany) Lion’s Den.

And the Gopher’s Den. And the Hoosier’s Den.

And certainly in his own home Wildcat’s Den of Ryan Stadium. More often than not the Bethlehem Liberty High School product, like the Biblical Daniel, emerges victorious.

No game better demonstrated this than NU’s dramatic upset over #13th-ranked Iowa on November 13th. Dan threw for 318 yards, ran for 50 more and accounted for all three of NU’s touchdowns. It earned him Walter Camp and Big 10 Offensive Player of the Week honors.

The game capped a year where he completed 74% of his passes for 2,581 yards and 15 touchdowns while ranking 12th in the nation in passer efficiency.  Persa also ran for over 500 yards and nine scores. “It all begins with your preparation in the preseason.  The spread offense really comes down to how the quarterback plays,” Persa commented.

“Everyone is so spread out that someone is usually going to be open.  The trick is just finding them.  At the same time, if no one is open you can always run too,” he observed.

Persa unfortunately suffered a season-ending injury on the final drive of the Iowa game.  The Communications major now faces the Lion of rehabbing the ruptured tendon, although happily the first team All-Big 10 QB is “ahead of schedule” and should be 100% in 2011.

Persa is no stranger to facing Lions.  Despite a crushing loss in the Pennsylvania 4A state title game his senior year, Persa rebounded to have a splendid Big 33 game. He rushed or threw for three scores, earning MVP honors.

“Talent,” he replied when asked what he learned from those deep playoff runs.  “The talent on a team is really overrated.  We may not have been the most talented team but we were so close and knew each other so well that we played hard for each other.  I think that is what led us to the state championship both times.”  Liberty was the state runner-up during Persa’s junior year too.

The reward for his exceptional prep career, where he threw for nearly 5,800 yards, ran for over 2,500 yards and accounted for 91 touchdowns through the air or on the ground?

Another Lion.  Sitting.  First as a redshirt.  Yet Persa benefited. “Obviously I wasn’t ready to play when I first got there,” Persa admitted, “and I think the biggest thing is that I kept improving every year, taking steps to develop as a quarterback.  When I got a chance to play my sophomore year I took advantage of it.”

Then Persa found himself behind Mike Kafka, now a Philadelphia Eagle, on the depth chart.  It also proved to be educational.  “I learned a lot from Mike,” said Kafka’s understudy, “The way he prepared.  The way he stayed focused during a game, never getting too high or too low,”

When given the chance to be top of the food chain in 2010, Persa seized it. In his first start, he threw more touchdowns (three) than incompletions (two) as NU beat Vanderbilt 23-21 on the road. Persa led the Wildcats to a 7-3 mark and a bowl berth.

“The year that Danny’s had has been absolutely spectacular. He’s a warrior,” remarked Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, himself a two-time Bednarik Award winner.  “In my opinion he’s had an MVP-type year. He ranks first, second or third in every major statistical category in the Big Ten. He closes his season with the single-season best (completion percentage) in Big Ten history and I think that speaks for itself.”

To quote NU’s website, “Perhaps (Persa’s) biggest strengths are his leadership skills and winning mentality.  He is a member of NU’s 10-player Leadership Council and is the first player to be named to the council three times.”

“The biggest part of being a leader is just being yourself,” Persa believes.  “Leadership is so important because…a lot of people are good especially at this level, but it is who can get their team to play the best on that certain play, series or game.

“I think leadership plays a big part in motivating your teammates and showing that you really care about what’s going on and you really care about them.  In turn, they’re going to care and play hard for you,” he concluded.

Persa was a National Honor Society student and an Academic All-Big 10 selection last year. Like other Henry winners, he is laying the foundation for success in life.

While success may or may not include an NFL career, Persa will have plenty of opportunities next year to audition in front of scouts.  Daniel spending Sundays in a Lion’s Den…or a Panther’s Den…or an Eagles’ Nest in South Philly…is an entirely plausible scenario.

Follow on Twitter @EPAFootball

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