Now, as he sat behind the same microphone his coach had just used, Persa was asked about the uncertainty in that comment.
"Yeah. I guess it depends on how I'm feelin'," he said. "I feel pretty good though. So."
You say you feel "pretty good."
"I feel," Persa said now, "I can play the whole game, yeah."
Frequently, during those weeks of uncertainty that surrounded the quarterback, both he and his coach discussed the mental side of returning from an injury as serious as the ripped Achilles that had sidelined Persa. So here we asked Fitzgerald if his quarterback was now mentally ready to come back.
"Absolutely," he asserted with an unmistakable timbre in his tone. "He's not only mentally ready. I think he's chomping at the bit to play. For a young man like Dan, the work ethic he's been committed to, no disrespect to any other player in college football, but no one's had to go through what he's gone through this off-season. And he's handled it as well as anybody possibly could. You know, as a college football player, your reward is Saturday.That's the reward. The opportunity to go out in the arena and compete with your teammates and have fun playing the game you love. He's going to get that back and I couldn't be more happy for him. It's been a hard road. But I look forward to watching him play and have some fun."
That statement, naturally enough, led to Persa being asked if it might actually be an understatement to say he was chomping at the bit.
"Yeah," he agreed. "Anytime you miss time, especially when it leaked into this year a little bit, it's tough. But I tried to control what I could control, and focus on my rehab and focus on coming back at the right time. Not trying to rush back into it and putting myself in more danger and putting my team in a compromised spot. So, yeah, I wanted to play. But at the same time I wanted to do the best thing for the team that was right for me at the same time."
Is there a danger he might be too pumped come Saturday?
"Maybe a little bit. But I'm not really that type of guy. I don't get too high or too low. I kind of just keep an even keel. I know I'll be excited, but I'm not a very rah-rah guy to begin with. So I'm not really worried about that."
* One more question lobbed Persa's way wondered if he was preparing differently this week now that he knew with certainty that he was going to play. "I think I did a pretty good job preparing as if I was going to play each game," he replied. "That's one of the things I focused on because I didn't exactly know when I was going to come back. So every week I was preparing like I was going to start, going through all the mental reps and doing all the film study I usually do. This week it's no different. The only thing is I'm going to play. That's it."
* Then, finally, there was every commentators' favorite question about game speed compared to practice speed, and whether Persa would need some time Saturday to adjust to the quicker pace. "I'm not going to overanalyze it," said Fitzgerald. "I think the guy's pretty good. They put his picture on a billboard, so. Pretty cool to get a guy like that back. I could overanalyze it if you want. But that's what you guys get paid to do."
"I don't know," said Persa himself. "I've played enough, I remember how it was. I'm sure when I get in there it's going to be a great feeling. I'm sure I'll be excited. But after the first play, I'll be fine."
* PersaStrong: The linebacker Bryce McNaul was seated next to Persa on Monday and was asked how it felt to have him back. "I won't say it's too good. It'll go to his head," he said with a smile. "But, obviously, Dan and our entire offense has been successful in the past about controlling the ball and controlling the pace of the game a little bit. That helps us out tremendously on defense when we can kind of get a breather."
* More from the depth chart: Senior Jack DiNardo, who has been off it, is back listed as one of the starting defensive tackles. Redshirt freshman Collin Ellis, another who has been off it, is listed as Ben Johnson's backup at Sam linebacker. (Chi Chi Ariguzo, another redshirt freshman who had been listed there, is now shown as McNaul's backup at the Will.) And senior David Arnold, a third who has been off it, is listed as the backup to Ibraheim Campbell at one of the safety spots. And just what does that trio's reappearance on the depth chart signify? "That they're going to play," said Fitzgerald.
"With Jack returning, that brings back some experience," senior corner Jordan Mabin said a bit more expansively. "So that helps the defensive line out and I feel like all the games start up front, both sides of the ball. If we're winning up front, that makes someone else's job a little easier. Then with Collin, he's a high motor guy. I actually just love watching him play on film. He's always flying around, giving 110 percent. I think those two guys will help our defense a lot."
* And finally: When the 'Cats and the Illini last met, you may recall, the setting was Wrigley Field, Persa was sitting out his first game after going down against Iowa, the Illini rolled up 559 total offensive yards and the 'Cats lost by a healthy 21. No wonder, then, that on Monday Fitzgerald said, "I think based on the way we played a year ago, there's not a whole lot I need to do to motivate our players for this game."