So when Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson called and told Harnish he was going to be the 253rd-and-last pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, Harnish embraced it.
The world now labels Harnish as Mr. Irrelevant – he'll be in a June parade in Newport Beach, Calif., go yachting and visit Disneyland – but Harnish is taking his shot at the pros with complete seriousness.
“I have a chance to play in the NFL and that's a goal of mine,” Harnish said. “I'm not going to lie, it was tough. I had to wait as long as I possibly could, but it's a great feeling. It's kind of surreal right now.”
Harnish and his agent had been contacted a few times during the course of the day by teams seemingly intent on drafting him. He had made a good impression during his stint as a throwing quarterback at the NFL Combine and in private workouts. But then the potential draft spots would come and go without a team calling his name.
After spending a good chunk of draft day at the golf course with friends and cousins, Harnish watched the last couple rounds of the draft, and said it was stressful.
“My hopes were high, but I started preparing for the worst and started thinking about free agency,” he said. “I was talking to a team about a deal when I got a call from the 317 area code.”
Grigson was on the phone.
“He just said, ‘How are you doing? We just want to let you know you're our guy we're drafting with the last pick in the draft,' ” Harnish said. “ ‘Congratulations on being a Colt and going to your hometown team.' ”
Harnish talked with Colts coach Chuck Pagano and quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen and then watched his name called live on television.
Being “Mr. Irrelevant” is no small deal, even with some negative connotations. Harnish was the No.1 trending topic on Twitter for a while. The pick, which has gained notoriety over the years, brings with it the implication that the player doesn't have much of a chance at an NFL career. But that's not always true.
One recent Mr. Irrelevent, Ryan Succop, went on to become the starting kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs. David Vobora has played four seasons as a linebacker with the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks.
There have been others. Running back Jim Finn played with both of the Manning brothers, first with Peyton and the Colts, then with Eli and the Giants. Marty Moore played linebacker for eight seasons, primarily with the Patriots. Bill Kenney was the 333rd pick in 1978 and went to the Pro Bowl as a quarterback for the Chiefs in 1983.
So it's not out of the question that Harnish could find a spot in the NFL.
"He is relevant, because otherwise you wouldn’t burn a pick on somebody," 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.”
It'll be tough with the Colts, since they have No.1 pick Andrew Luck, veteran backup Drew Stanton and free agent signee Trevor Vittatoe also on the roster. But Harnish had a tremendous college career, setting 30 school records and earning Mid-American Conference MVP honors. He had at least one team on the verge of taking him in the fifth round Saturday.
Harnish will report to the Colts rookie mini-camp this Thursday, with practices to follow on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“I just want to go in there and compete,” Harnish said.
Harnish had personal workouts at Northern Illinois for several NFL teams, but the Colts were not one of them. However, the Colts came to look a Northern Illinois receiver last week and Harnish handled all the passing.
The Colts expressed interest in bringing him in as a free agent before deciding to use their final pick on him. Harnish joked that he can put his Colts license plate back on his car now. He's not too concerned with the stigma of being given a "Lowsman Trophy" (a play on Heisman Trophy) as Mr. Irrelevant.
“Mr. Irrelevant, I think it's great,” Harnish said. “It gives more interest to the draft and people are excited to see who that last pick is going to be. I get to reap some rewards for it, but by no means does that change a thing about the Colts. I'm excited to be part of the team now and I'll go do my best to compete.”