The boys breaking through that line

    Northwestern football has in many ways thrived as a program whose success is greater than the sum of its parts. The perception is that thanks to a remarkable coaching and scouting operation, Northwestern can compete with players that fly under the radar nationally.  However, following a 4-0 start, it seems prudent to look at the top individual performances, one on each side of the ball, and check their growing presence on the national stage (as well as the awards that may follow).

    Photo by Katie Tang / North by Northwestern

    OFFENSE: Dan Persa, Quarterback

    Easily the offensive standout of the season so far, Persa’s surprise performance has won him an ever-growing clamor for recognition, albeit recognition Persa seems to have little interest in.

    “I’m not really worried about [individual accolades],” Persa said at practice Tuesday. “I don’t really engage myself on things I can’t necessarily control.”

    Coming into the season, Persa had only played a handful of snaps in the 2009 season after an injury to then-starter Mike Kafka. So coming into the season, expectations were a little less tangible.

    “I wasn’t really worried about [stats], just doing the best I could.  Whatever numbers or wins came from that, that’s fine. I don’t really engage myself on things I can’t necessarily control.”

    Undeniably, Persa has exceeded even the vaguest of expectations set for him. After another fine performance against Central Michigan on Saturday, Persa is tied for second in the nation with a 186.34 passer rating and is leading in completion percentage with an astonishing 80.2 percent.  He remains the ‘Cats’ leading rusher with 172 yards and has to date thrown only a single interception.  Even if his performance is downgraded from super-human to merely good, look for his name to populate many of the post-season all-conference rosters.

    Photo by Katie Tang / North by Northwestern

    DEFENSE: Quentin Davie, Linebacker (SR)

    The Wildcats linebacking corps coming into the season was easily the defense’s strongest unit. Named to the Butkus Award for top college linebacker watch list, Sporting News’ first-team All-Big Ten roster and Phil Steele’s second-team list, Davie had been highly decorated entering the season. So far he has earned the pre-season honors.

    His performance against Rice with 10 tackles, a sack and an interception returned for a touchdown earned him Big Ten Player of the Week honors, yet he shrugged off that particular benchmark as only one small step in a process.

    “Awards are one of those things that start leaking into your mind and make you think you’re better than what you are when you can always improve. They’re good but as long as I keep improving I’m all right,” Davie says. “It’s not important what I get now, it’s important what goes on at the end of the year, how I will have played throughout the year.”

    Davie made no secret of the fact that Big Ten Player of the Year would be a fitting end to the season following the Rice performance and added to his resume with another sack and a forced fumble vs. CMU.  A marquee performance to open Big Ten play against a solid Minnesota running game would certainly boost his prospects even more.

    Photo by Katie Tang / North by Northwestern


    It would be hard to find a more polarizing player on the Northwestern roster than place-kicker Stefan Demos. Instrumental in many of the Wildcats’ 2009 heart-stopping victories (in particular a gutty 4-4 performance against Wisconsin), Demos was also the scapegoat for the team’s brutal Outback Bowl loss to end the season, missing both field goals including the would-be game-tying kick in overtime.

    The offseason was a tumultuous one for Demos: he dealt with the loss while preparing for his senior campaign that held a great deal of promise. Redshirt freshman Brandon Williams has taken over punting duties, easing Demos’ heavy workload. The new focus on place-kicking, and Demos’ overall stellar season in 2009 was enough to get him named to the Lou Groza Award (for college football’s top kicker) watch list as well as a spot on the Sporting News and Phil Steele’s first-team All-Big Ten rosters to begin the season. Unfortunately for Demos, he has started the year 6-9 from field goal range with three more misses coming on extra-point kicks. However, he remains optimistic.

    “My expectations every day are to get better and keep improving and I think we’re getting better in practice and hopefully it’ll show in games. It hasn’t been the greatest start for me the first four games.”

    Demos is still getting used to his new role as single-duty place-kicker, a possible reason for the early struggles.

    “It’s a little different during games since I’m used to always doing something and staying warm so I just have to do a better job of staying active on the sidelines and getting ready.”

    His missed field goals have yet to really hurt the Wildcats this season, but in the significantly fiercer Big Ten competition to come, Demos will surely have to play up to his award expectations if the Wildcats are to continue their recent string of success.

    Additional reporting by Katie Tang.


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