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    BLOG: Nearing the End and Stronger Than Ever

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    * He has completed 193 of his 260 pass attempts (74.2 percent) for 2,163 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has also battled through nagging injuries as well as the aftereffects of the major injury he suffered 13 months ago, and catalyzed the 'Cats to the late surge that carried them into the Dec. 31 Meineke Car Care Bowl against Texas A&M. But even now Dan Persa is not the same self he was before ripping up his Achilles against Iowa, which is why he so looked forward to this month and the additional practices that accompany a postseason appearance. "I thought," he will say, "it was a terrific opportunity for me to take some steps in my rehab and get in the best possible shape for the game."

    Does he still feel himself getting better day-by-day?

    "Yeah, definitely, definitely. When I'm doing rehab, when I'm running, not so much on the practice field, but when I'm doing drills to get myself faster, I feel a lot better. I'm not 100 percent yet. But it gets better everyday."

    In which ways does he feel better?

    "It's strength and trust. I'm starting to trust it a lot more when I'm doing rehab. I'm running well and I feel good moving around."

    And what's he mean by trust?

    "It's just proving to yourself that you can do stuff, like putting your foot in the ground and going forward. Just having the confidence that your foot'll hold up."

    * Four months ago, as the 'Cats labored in Kenosha and prepared for their season opener against Boston College, a pair of subjects received an outsized amount of attention. One of them was the condition of Persa's Achilles and how far along he was in his rehabilitation and just when he would again be available to play. When asked any questions along those lines, both he and 'Cat coach Pat Fitzgerald were unfailingly optimistic as well as understandably non-committal. The other was PersaStrong, the Heisman campaign the school launched in his honor. When asked Wednesday if that push put pressure on him to hasten his return, he would say, "It wasn't pressure. But having people think I was going to be ready for the beginning of the season when I knew I wasn't was tough. Kind of answering those questions about that was tough. But I never put any pressure on myself because I pretty much knew when I was going to come back. I had a ballpark. It was tough though."

    So he knew, but couldn't tell?

    "You can't leak any information to the other teams. You kind of have to keep them on their toes. But I pretty much knew when I was going to come back."

    * With his quarterback's last game as a 'Cat now rushing toward them both, Fitzgerald was asked Wednesday what he would remember most about Persa. "Just his toughness and his resiliency," he said, launching into a soliloquy. "The whole year has not gone, I think, the way any of us wanted it to go for him. But he has just stayed the course and been so resilient. I could single out one play, but I think that would minimize what he's had to overcome. It hasn't been easy. But his attitude's been tremendous and he's done a great job leading.

    "I think his legacy will long outlast this year and be shown in the way our quarterbacks perform in the future. The way he's really helped those guys, brought 'em along and been really unselfish. To say one thing would minimize that. That leadership, that's what really jumps out to me. Going back to earlier in the year, the Boston College game when he can't play, he's the first guy in Kain's (Colter) ear coming off the boundary, to the way he played at Nebraska. He played really well, then got dinged up, to have that leadership to say I could go out there and maybe play but I'd hurt the team, that's pretty impressive.

    "I also think he learned patience through that injury. You hate to see that happen because of an injury. But I think he's handled it as well as anyone can. You know. He does a good job of worrying about what he can control and listening to who he's needs to listen to. So. This will be a great way to put an exclamation point to his career. Get this monkey (no bowl win since 1949) off our back, get the win and really springboard the next year and put a great bow to the careers of a senior class that is really special."

    * Persa, to his core, is the purest definition of a competitor, so it would be hard to exaggerate just how difficult it was for him to be a mere spectator at season's start. But, back then, not only did he remain poised and amiable under the onslaught of questions about his health. He also, as Fitzgerald noted, kept himself connected to his team, which is often a difficult task for a player who is sidelined. (Your Scribbler, in fact, has heard many say they do not feel part of the whole when they are not out there practicing and sweating with their teammates.) "It was tough not being out there, being healthy my whole life, then going down and being out for an extended period of time," Persa will say when asked about this. "But I knew I would come back at some point and I wanted to help the guys as much as possible because it was still our team. I didn't want to step out and then just step back in and have people have to readjust to me and my personality. So I tried to stay in it as much as possible."

    So it was something he felt he had to do?

    "Yeah. I think so. Like I said before, it's still our team and I consider myself one of the leaders and if I was standing by the wayside not offering my input, I think I'd be doing the wrong thing for the team."

    * With his last college game now at hand, has he taken time to reflect on his year, on his career? "A little bit, but not really. I think we'll file that away until the end of the season before we do that. I mean. The last game will pretty much set the mark for us in terms of if we're successful or not. It's been a long year, a lot of ups and downs. But I won't reflect on that until we're done."

    * In Dan Persa's odd year, here are some final statistical oddities. He, first of all, still needs to throw 19 passes against A&M to finish his career as the all-time pass percentage completion leader in the history of college football. Here's why. He played on special teams as a freshman back in '08, a year in which he didn't throw a pass, and the rules state you have to average 15 attempts for every game played, even if they weren't played at quarterback. So he's been in catchup mode ever since. "That's funny," he says when apprised of that reality.

    But then there is this. The current record holder is former Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, who completed 70.4 percent of his passes. Persa's mark is now 73 percent, which means he could fail to connect on any of his 19 attempts and still finish ahead of Brennan. "I take a lot of pride being accurate with the ball," he will say when asked what that record would mean to him. "You never really play for records. You play to win the game. If those things happen, they happen. But it would be a great honor because I worked really hard on that throughout my career."

    * And finally, Persa, on the end: "The last game. You can't hold anything behind you now. You've got to pull out all the stops and leave it all on the field. It's a fun feeling, playing like that."

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