INDIANAPOLIS – Prior to the 2012 NFL Draft, the football world was familiar with highly touted quarterback Andrew Luck of Stanford.
Quarterback Chandler Harnish of Northern Illinois? Not as much as Luck in the public realm, but he was relevant in many football circles.
Luck spent his draft day, the first day of the draft, in the green room at Radio City Music Hall in New York, N.Y., where he knew he was going first overall.
Harnish spent his draft day, the third and final day of the draft, on the greens of a golf course near his hometown of Bluffton, Ind., where he had no idea if he would be taken at all.
“I just didn’t want to sit in front of a TV for eight hours and watch every single pick and then get frustrated,” said Harnish. “I didn’t want to go through that. We played a five-man Florida scramble, so we didn’t even keep score. I started off hot, but ended pretty sluggishly because I was focused on other things.”
Luck went first overall, made an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman and was the guest of honor at the Colts draft party at Lucas Oil Stadium on the draft’s second night.
After much frustration and wondering, Harnish was finally taken as the 253rd and final pick of the draft. He watched his name get announced on television and was a local celebrity among family and friends.
“Everyone I ran into was congratulating me, I’m getting tons of messages on my phone and Twitter and everything in between,” the lifelong Colts fan turned rookie quarterback said. “It’s been a whirlwind.
“It was a surprise when I got drafted by the Colts. It was surprise, shock and pure happiness. I was proud just to go to the team that you grew up loving your whole life. It’s really hard to describe.”
For months leading up to the April 26 draft, Luck was the most relevant name of the draft class.
As the final selection of the NFL Draft, Harnish is now affectionately known as ‘Mr. Irrelevant.’
The moniker is a long-standing draft tradition created elsewhere, but Harnish hardly embodies his nickname.
While at Northern Illinois, Harnish passed for 8,944 yards and ran for 2,983. He set 30 school passing, rushing and total offense records, led the Huskies to four consecutive bowl games and earned honors as the Mid-American Conference MVP as a senior in 2011. A true dual threat quarterback, Harnish completed 61.9 percent of his passes and averaged 5.5 yards per carry, passing and rushing for 92 total touchdowns.
“He is relevant, because otherwise you wouldn’t burn a pick on somebody,” Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson said. “He is very smart and mobile. He is a really good leader and you don’t get a bad word about this guy. He’s got ability and we are happy with the pick. He was up there on our board higher than when we took him, believe me.”
Part of being drafted as a professional athlete, what Harnish has found is new-found fame both locally and nationally.
On the day he was drafted, Harnish was a top headline on ESPN.com, he has fielded interviews from publications ranging from the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel to the Chicago Tribune and has even been asked to headline Irrelevant Week in Newport Beach, Calif., this June, where he would be the guest of honor at Disneyland among other attractions.
Even his high school, Norwell High in Ossian, Ind., is relevant. Having just more than 800 students, Harnish is now the second professional athlete from the class of 2007. That year, MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks drafted classmate Jarrod Parker who now pitches for the Oakland Athletics.
“It was pretty special that we’ve had two guys come out,” Harnish said. “He’s made it and I’m still working on making it, but it’s pretty cool nonetheless to come from a small school, small town, and have two guys (become professional athletes).”
Despite the onslaught of attention the few days provided, Harnish tries to keep things in perspective.
“I was the top story for a day,” he said with a smile. “I was in the spotlight just for a brief moment and I got a lot of phone calls and things, and that was a little bit of a stressful event just because you can’t keep up with everything, but now I’m back to just a normal guy again and you just can’t afford to feel that pressure. You’ve just got to go out and just focus on football and do your thing.”
While the first and final picks for the Colts bookended the draft and came from both ends of the celebrity spectrum, they are now rookies and working to improve the quarterback position for their new team.
“Andrew (Luck) is a great player and I’m coming in here just trying to compete, make the position better as a whole and help him out, let him help me out and just continue to learn and develop,” Harnish said.
“Coming here, you kind of got to get rid of that feeling of, ‘Wow, I’m with the Colts,’ and just go out and play football and start to learn the offense and just do your thing,” Harnish said. “I think I’m really starting to feel settled in and feel more comfortable.”