“There’s a handful of schools in the country that select, they don’t recruit; we recruit,” said Pat Fitzgerald. “What I mean by that is we’re looking for young men that are going to work to get better and fit our program in all aspects of what we’re doing.”
Take for example Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa and Al Netter—each who were two-star prospects and a long way from where they are now. Persa is now a First-Team All-Big Ten quarterback and on a number of watch lists for prestigious awards. Netter is a three-year starter at tackle for the Wildcats and a likely NFL player in the future.
How does a two-star high school football player become a top-tier college player? It’s simple—buying in and working hard.
“We don’t get the five-star recruits but we get a lot of talented guys that are willing to work hard and make themselves better,” said senior quarterback Dan Persa.
When Netter was first recruited by Northwestern as a junior in high school, he was a two-star tackle and weighed 235 pounds. When Pat Fitzgerald first saw Netter in the summer of 2006, he envisioned him blossoming into a high caliber Big Ten tackle. That was because he knew Netter would work hard.
“To become the full package, you’ve got to buy in,” Fitzgerald said. “(Netter) has. He’s kind of the poster boy for what you can become.”
Netter entered the program in 2007 and took a redshirt during his first year. While sitting out, he worked to get better, spending constant time in the weight room and fine-tuning his game.
During the Wildcats’ first game in 2008 against Syracuse, Netter was the starting tackle. Since then, he has started in every game and continues to improve.
“I think his work ethic and love of the game really stuck out from the beginning,” said Dan Persa. “A lot of guys love camp and dread spring ball. He really looked forward for the opportunity to get better. I think that’s what drove him to be so good.”
Persa is another example of a player of rising from his ranking. As a senior at Liberty (PA) High School, Persa was the 71st-ranked quarterback in the class of 2007, according to Scout.com. Now, he is a Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the nation’s top quarterbacks.
Persa didn’t see any starts during his first two seasons at Northwestern, but learned from starter Mike Kafka. In the meantime, he continued to work hard in the weight room. As a junior, Persa completed 73.5 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,581 and 15 touchdowns in 10 games. Persa is also the Wildcats’ strongest player pound-for-pound—a testament to his work ethic.
The key for Persa’s success was simple: working hard and buying into what Pat Fitzgerald was teaching.
“I think he’s just stressing buying in to what we believe in,” Persa said. “What he’s preaching, if everyone is buying in, we’re going to be successful.”
This season, the Wildcats have high hopes of accomplishing big feats. The team is filled with players like Dan Persa and Al Netter who have worked hard ever since entering the program as unproven freshman.
“I feel if you put in good work, good dedication, good time, and if you dedicate yourself to football, you can be a one-star and make it to All-Big Ten,” said cornerback Jordan Mabin. “It goes to show you what hard work can do and if you really want something, you can be dedicated to it.”