Penn State's McGloin shares history with Northwestern's Persa

Posted: November 04, 2010

Remove the invisible-but-always-conspicuous scarlet letter "W" from the front of Matt McGloin's jersey - signifying him as a former walk-on - and there is very little difference between the winding path the Penn State redshirt sophomore quarterback and his junior counterpart at Northwestern, Dan Persa, have taken to the precipice of history.

It's not just that they're both Pennsylvania kids who dreamed of someday starring for their home state's foremost college football program. It's not just that they're almost mirror images of one another physically, with McGloin checking in at 6-1 and 209 pounds to Persa's 6-1, 205. It's not even that neither was deemed worthy of being offered a grant-in-aid by their dream school, Penn State, coming out of high school.

What links McGloin, who was a PIAA Class AAA all-stater at West Scranton High, and Persa, a Bethlehem native who was a PIAA Class AAAA all-stater at Liberty High, is that McGloin wants to help Penn State coach Joe Paterno achieve his milestone 400th career victory when the Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten Conference) host Northestern (6-2, 2-2) Saturday afternoon in Beaver Stadium, while Persa will attempt to prevent JoePa from gaining entry into the exclusive 400-win club, if only temporarily.

"It would be amazing," McGloin, who is expected to see at least some game action even if he doesn't get the start ahead of true freshman Rob Bolden, said of the prospect of having a hand in another monumental moment in Paterno's fabulous career. "I cannot imagine how good it's going to feel to be a part of that win. To be a part of coach Paterno's 400th win, if it happens this week, would be a great honor.

"We're going to be a team to be remembered. Who was the quarterback? Who were the running backs? Who were all the players on the team that got coach Paterno his 400th win?"

But Persa, who wound up at Northwestern, in part, because Paterno and his staff didn't consider him a must-have prospect, won't mind one bit if the 83-year-old legend's date with destiny is delayed a while longer.

"[The Wildcats] know about it, but we're not putting too much stock in that," he said of the national attention being focused on the game because of Paterno's bid to become only the third college coach to win 400 games, and the first in the Football Bowl Subdivision. "I think guys are more worried about what's going on between the lines."

Concussions also constitute a form of common ground for McGloin and Persa. McGloin, who hadn't completed a pass in a Penn State uniform, got his opportunity when Bolden left the Minnesota game on Oct. 23 after suffering a second-quarter concussion. With Bolden sidelined, McGloin came in and passed for two touchdowns, helping lift the Nits to a 33-21 victory, and he followed that with a 17-for-28, 250-yard, two-touchdown (one rushing) performance in last week's 41-31 shootout over Michigan as Bolden, again, was held out for precautionary reasons.

Now, with Bolden - who started the first seven games this season - given a clean bill of health by the Penn State medical staff, Paterno has said he and McGloin will compete for the top spot against Northwestern, although both are likely to play regardless of who takes the first snap.

"It's tough to get warmed up and into a flow," said McGloin, who doesn't relish the thought of being a part of a QB rotation. "At Minnesota, Kevin [Newsome] and I split possessions for the second and third quarters. It's just tough. I would prefer if it was just one quarterback, whether it be myself or Rob."

Persa, the second-rated passer in the Big Ten, is a clear No. 1 for Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, but he suffered a head injury in the fourth quarter of last week's 20-17 win at Indiana and was replaced by backup Evan Watkins. Fitzgerald said he expects a recovered Persa to start against Penn State.

"From the moment we had Danny in our football camp we thought that he was pretty spectacular," Fitzgerald said. "He's important. We're glad to have him."

Persa, whose sister and mother attended Penn State, grew up a fan of the Lions and attended a number of games in Beaver Stadium. But, he said, "They didn't recruit me much, which is fine. I'm not going to hold any grudges.

"During my freshman and sophomore years [of high school], I was probably hoping they'd send me some stuff. But, hey, life goes on. During recruiting, you try to remove any personal likes or dislikes about a school and try to find the best fit for yourself, regardless of where you're from or what school you rooted for."

The second-teamer behind Mike Kafka (now with the Eagles) last season, Persa got his first significant game action when Kafka went out with a leg injury in the second quarter of last year's 34-13 loss to Penn State in Evanston, Ill. He finished with 115 passing yards and 42 rushing yards.

"I don't think I played well, but I needed that experience," Persa said.

Paterno figures Persa put whatever he learned to good use.

"He certainly has become one of the better quarterbacks, I think, in the country," Paterno said.

Nit-picking

"Going for 400: The Life and Legacy of Joe Paterno" re-airs on ESPNU tonight at 11 o'clock, tomorrow at 9 p.m. and Saturday at 8 a.m. *

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