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Colts' Harnish capable of NFL relevancy

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Mr. Irrelevant has proven critics wrong his entire career

Monday, April 30, 2012 - 8:30 am

BLUFFTON – Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks not named Andrew Luck should consider Chandler Harnish irrelevant at their own risk.

Since his days at Norwell High School through his record-setting years at Northern Illinois University, Harnish has made a career out of being underestimated and then making a mockery of those estimations.

“At the end of the day, I wanted an opportunity,” Harnish said. “Whether I was drafted or as a free agent, I wanted the chance to go out and show what I can do, and do what I've loved to do my whole life: play football and lead.”

Harnish might be a long shot to land a roster spot, with a spot on the practice squad seeming more likely for such a late draft pick. But anyone who says he has no shot doesn't know his polished skills and innate instincts as a quarterback.

Harnish spent Sunday welcoming family and friends with handshake and hugs at his parents' home, sporting an Indianapolis Colts sweatshirt and wearing a mixture of excitement and fatigue on his face after a Saturday night celebration.

He's ready for some football now.

“I'm finally settling in and thinking football-type thoughts,” Harnish said.

It took three days of the NFL Draft and 253 picks until his name was called. “Mr. Irrelevant” is the tag he has for now, annually bestowed on the player who gets taken with the last pick of the draft. Harnish is not the first local player to be Mr. Irrelevent. Bishop Luers' Jim Kelleher was the last player picked in 1977 out of Colorado University.

“Chandler Harnish” was a Twitter trend minutes after he was announced as the last pick Saturday evening.

“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.”

Harnish's resume is loaded with relevancy: He landed the Mid-American Conference's Vern Smith Leadership Award for player of the year. His total offense this past season ranked third in the nation behind Houston's Case Keenum and Baylor's Robert Griffin III. He led the nation's quarterbacks in rushing at 106.3 yards per game.

Harnish is one of only 10 quarterbacks in major-college history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in a season. If not for an ankle injury early in the bowl, he could have become the first ever to rush for 1,500 and pass for 3,000.

The waiting was indeed the hardest part over the weekend. Harnish didn't worry too much about Thursday and Friday, the first two days and three rounds of the draft.

On Saturday afternoon, Harnish went golfing with some buddies and cousins while his father, Ron, sat home watching every minute of the draft. Ron Harnish called it a very long, frustrating day, especially when teams that had shown interest would pick a different player.

A couple teams told Chandler Harnish they'd draft him as high as the fifth round. He started watching about the sixth round, worried that it might stress him out. And it did.

“From the fourth through seventh rounds, I was expecting a phone call and interest and it was really quiet; I didn't like it at all,” Harnish said. “All this hard work, the Combine, the all-star game, Pro Day, it was all going for nothing, that's how I felt. I was getting ready for free agency. Hope was pretty much lost.”

Harnish was on the phone with another team, fielding a free-agent offer, when Grigson called telling him they were taking him with the 253rd-and-last pick of the draft.

“It's amazing how fast you can go from the bottom of the roller coaster to the top,” Harnish said.

Because Harnish landed the “Mr. Irrelevant” tag, there was as much hype for him as any player in the final two hours of the draft. He'll be part of “Irrelevant Week” in June in Newport Beach, Calif., with a number of activities. But that's some lighthearted fun.

He expects to have some of the Colts playbook in hand today or Tuesday. He'll report to the Colts' three-day rookie camp later this week.

Luck, the first pick in the draft, and Harnish, the last pick, will be throwing passes together at the Colts practice complex Friday through Sunday.

“I talked to Andrew briefly at the Combine,” Harnish said. “We were in two different groups because of our last names. He seems like a great guy and even better player, so the Colts are in good hands. But I'm going in there expecting to compete and make that position better as a whole.”

Harnish will compete with two other quarterbacks once the Colts hit summer training camp, probably at Anderson University, in late July. The Colts acquired Drew Stanton in a trade with the Detroit Lions and also signed free-agent Trevor Vittatoe.

Conventional wisdom says Luck and Stanton will be the opening-day quarterbacks on the Colts roster.

Harnish has a knack for making conventional wisdom irrelevant, so to speak.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. E-mail Reggie Hayes at