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    Behind the Scenes at Big Ten Football Media Days

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    The Big Ten Conference held its 40th annual Big Ten Football Media Days this past Thursday and Friday, July 28-29, at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago. Here are a couple of quick behind-the-scenes thoughts following the event:

    • A record number of media attended this year (the exact figure escapes me, but it was more than 500). This was due in large part to the addition of Nebraska to the conference and their media's exuberance in taking in all things Big Ten. At Thursday's coaches session with the print media that was broadcast live on the Big Ten Network and ESPNU, the right wall of the room had to be moved out from its position last year to accommodate the extra interest.

    • As has been a long-standing tradition because of our proximity to the festivities, a member of the Northwestern Athletic Communications staff moderates that opening coaches session each year. After veteran moderator Julie Dunn handled those duties the last three years, the honor fell to me this season. The last time I served in that capacity was circa 2007 when the Big Ten Network was much more fledgling and the media hoard much smaller. Sitting on the podium, it was pretty neat to see the back of the room fill in when JoePa took the stage and to see how many in the media largely stopped taking notes and paid rapt attention to Commissioner Jim Delany's comments. It is safe to say that each coach commands his own presence and has a style that both defines and embodies his program. It will be interesting to see how those programs with new coaches shift in the image of their new leaders. We here in Evanston have gone through that transition with Coach Fitz the past five years and it's pretty obvious that this is Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern.

    • Because of those moderating duties, I wasn't able to be around our guys at all on Thursday, but I did spend Friday morning's one-on-one session with them. At this session, all 12 Big Ten coaches and the three players from each team sit at their own individual tables while media come visit with them inside of a two-hour window. Right from the start, Coach Fitz and Dan Persa's tables were two of the most busy in the entire room. That's not to say Al Netter and Jordan Mabin didn't get their fair share of talking in; Al told a couple of great stories dealing with his ASB service trip to Guatemala two years ago and his ill-conceived Halloween costume choice last year (he quickly learned that in the country he ordered it from, extra large does mean the same thing it means here in the states. It was a...cozy costume).

    • Is Dan Persa 100 percent? That's the question I heard asked in about 100 different ways to all four NU representatives. The answers depended on the point-of-view of the source, but the gist is this: Danny is eight months in to what for a normal human being is a 12-to-14 month recovery. Being an athlete in the amazing state of shape and fitness he has achieved, Persa is right where we thought he would be in his rehab and continues to get stronger every day. The most important point being made, though, in my estimation, was about Persa's mental state. Both he and Fitz talked about how far ahead Persa is mentally this year than at this same point in 2010. While I have no doubt Persa will be a physical force on Sept. 3 at Boston College, what excites me the most is the year of starting experience he has under his belt. Mental strength is a powerful thing, especially for a quarterback in the hyper-quick environment of a Big Ten pocket.

    • At today's autograph session ahead of the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon, the line at Northwestern's table was the longest I can remember. Interest is high in the Wildcats this season, there is no doubt. Helping that interest today was the fact that Coach Fitz was one of just a handful of coaches who participated, chatting up each and every fan in that line. While everyone is a potential Big Ten champion at Media Days -- I get that -- this is going to be one of the more exciting Northwestern squads we've had lately...and that is saying a lot. If you don't have your season tickets yet, get them now. Go 'Cats!

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