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updated: 7/31/2011 12:24 AM

NU gets behind its QB for Heisman

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  • HANDOUT PHOTONorthwestern has started a billboard campaign hyping quarterback Dan Persa as a Heisman contender.

      HANDOUT PHOTONorthwestern has started a billboard campaign hyping quarterback Dan Persa as a Heisman contender.

  • Northwestern brought items promoting Dan Persa as a Heisman candidate to the Big Ten media days in Chicago.

       Northwestern brought items promoting Dan Persa as a Heisman candidate to the Big Ten media days in Chicago.
    Lindsey Willhite | Staff Photographer

 

Northwestern's roster lists Dan Persa as 6-feet-1. That's only on the football field.

On the Kennedy Expressway, Persa towers several stories above the fray.

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That's because Northwestern's athletic department, as part of a national Heisman Trophy campaign that launches Monday, has rented a 20-foot by 60-foot billboard to greet commuters as they approach the eastbound Addison Street exit.

NU's billboard declares the fifth-year senior quarterback, who earned first-team all-Big Ten honors last fall, to be "Chicago's Heisman Candidate."

CBS Outdoor Advertising estimates more than 900,000 sets of eyes per week will pass the Persa propaganda.

That's not where the campaign ends. Northwestern also rented a smaller billboard in Bristol, Conn., in order to convey the same message to ESPN's talking heads.

The Wildcats also mailed out 80 "PersaStrong" purple boxes to prominent members of the college football media. Enclosed in the boxes is a pair of 7-pound dumbbells (to match Persa's jersey number) as well as literature highlighting his on- and off-field exploits.

"We didn't worry about how much it cost," said Mike Polisky, Northwestern's senior associate athletics director for external affairs. "We wanted to grab attention for Dan and make people take notice."

Why does Persa merit this effort? He paced the nation last year with a 73.5 percent completion rate. He finished eighth nationally in total yards per game (310.0) and ninth in passer efficiency (159.04 rating).

Only 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and Hawaii senior Bryant Moniz joined Persa among the top 10 in both categories.

While this marks the first time Northwestern has gone to such lengths to publicize a player, it's not unprecedented for a Wildcat to be in the Heisman Trophy hunt.

Otto Graham finished third in the 1943 balloting. Darnell Autry took fourth in 1995, and Damien Anderson wound up fifth in 2000.

Pat Fitzgerald started hyping Persa as a Heisman candidate in April.

"I see no reason why not," Fitzgerald told Lindy's magazine. "He's the all-Big Ten quarterback. If you're an all-Big Ten-level quarterback or an all-SEC-level quarterback or an all-Pac-10 quarterback, shouldn't you be in that mix? Isn't it the best player on potentially the best team? The player that means the most to his team?"

Fitzgerald ratcheted up the rhetoric at Big Ten media days. Apparently he's not too worried whether Persa returns at 100 percent from the surgery that repaired his ruptured right Achilles tendon.

"I'll take Danny at 40 percent over any other quarterback in the country," Fitzgerald said.

Persa, a Bethlehem, Penn., native who doesn't take praise well, tried his best to appreciate the lengths Northwestern has gone on his behalf.

"It's cool," Persa said. "It means a lot coming from (Fitzgerald) because he won a lot of awards when he played. But at the end of the day, it's out of my control.

"If I play well and our team wins games, I'll have a pretty good shot. But at the end of the day, it's really out of my control."

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