Persby primed

Michael Dougherty

Ready or not, Gophers quarterback Andy Persby is on the verge of a trial by fire. The sophomore will make his first collegiate start Saturday against 13th-ranked Penn State (3-1) at the Metrodome.
But the confident signal-caller said he’s ready to seize the opportunity to step in and revitalize the 3-1 Gophers’ sputtering offense.
“I think I’m ready,” Persby said. “I’ve seen all of the different defenses and I’m confident I can lead this team, and if things don’t work out there’s no excuses anymore.”
Persby, who grew up in North St. Paul and played his high school ball at Hill Murray, has played only sparingly this season in relief of junior Billy Cockerham. But the coaching staff has been impressed with his poise, as well as his strong arm.
“We want to jump-start the offense,” offensive coordinator Steve Loney said. “Andy is a guy who performed well in the second half of the Purdue game and he made some plays.
“It’s not a slam against Billy, but it’s giving an opportunity to a guy who probably deserves the right to show what he can do.”
Growing up in a suburb of the Twin Cities, Persby said he’s always dreamed of starting for the Gophers, and admits it couldn’t come at a better time with legendary coach Joe Paterno and his Lions coming to town for a nationally televised game.
“I talked about it all the time with my dad and my high school coach,” Persby said. “I’ve had this dream my whole life and they’ve always had the dream, too. It’s great to finally get my shot, and it’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
Persby’s high school coach, Steve Frickey, coached at Hill-Murray for 22 years and is now in his first year as the defensive coordinator at Burnsville high school.
Frickey said he couldn’t be happier for Persby and is currently working on getting tickets to the game with Persby’s family.
Frickey also said he believes Persby, who was a three-year starter at Hill-Murray, definitely has the talent to compete successfully at this level. But Frickey said facing Penn State will be quite a bit different from Persby’s high school days, when the toughest team on the schedule was the Stillwater Ponies.
“Obviously, I’m very excited for him,” Frickey said. “He’s worked a long time to get to this point. He’s a great kid who is very dedicated, and I hope that he can live up to the expectations that people have for him.”
With all of this talk of dreams coming true, those involved must still remember that Paterno and his dominating defense are coming town and figure to give Persby and the Gophers nightmares.
And Persby said he realizes that his dream is only partially complete; now he must lead a potentially potent offense that has struggled under Cockerham.
“I really don’t know what Billy’s situation is,” Persby said. “He’s just had a couple of instances where things just haven’t worked out for him. A couple of times the lineman have screened him because he’s a couple inches shorter than I am and he couldn’t see the receiver.
“He’s a good quarterback and he’s just had some bad luck, while I’ve been lucky enough to see the receivers and be able to hit them.”
Besides Persby’s strong arm and leadership in the huddle, Loney said he likes how the change has invigorated the offense, adding that everyone is running a half-step faster and hitting a little bit harder.
“Confidence comes from a guy who is confident in himself, and Andy’s excited about his start and that excitement rubs off on people,” Loney said. “I think in today’s practice our guys practiced harder than they have in some time.”
Persby also said he is the type of guy who is a leader, something which is a necessity for a quarterback.
In his part-time duty during the first four games this season Persby has completed 14-of-29 passes for 152 yards, one touchdown and one interception. And while those are hardly Brett Favre-type numbers, it’s Persby’s leadership which won him the job — albeit temporarily, as coach Glen Mason said.
“I think any time a new quarterback steps in, you’ve got to get leadership out of them,” Persby said. “And I think the team does feel I’m a good leader, or else Coach wouldn’t put me out there.
“Quarterbacking is more than just who is the best quarterback. It’s about who is the better leader, because you need a good leader out there and that’s the spot that’s going to turn the program around.”