Palmer, Schiller, Wedige get free agent NFL shots
Chandler Harnish waited longer than anyone to hear his name called at the 2012 National Football League Draft.
For the quarterback from Northern Illinois, who in 2011 became the fourth player ever in the Football Bowl Subdivision to pass for more than 3,000 and rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, led NIU to four bowl games as the Huskies’ starting quarterback and to its first Mid-American Conference Championship in 28 years, having a dream fulfilled was worth the wait.
When the Indianapolis Colts made him the 253rd choice to end the seventh and final round of the draft, all Harnish felt was joy.
“I’m just so ecstatic that I got drafted,” Harnish said.
“I had absolutely given up hope. I was kind of in the dumps, I was down. I had gotten a text from the Colts halfway through the seventh round saying I was on their short list and to hold tight. I replied that was awesome, and we exchanged a few texts. Then [the phone] got quiet for a little while, until we started fielding calls from a lot of different teams about a potential free agent deal. Then at the very end, when I thought all hope was lost, the Colts called me about a minute before they made the pick on national TV.”
The fact that the team that called his name – his home state Indianapolis Colts – is the team he has followed since he knew what the letters “NFL” meant, made Saturday’s wait even more tolerable.
“It hasn’t really settled in yet [that it was the Colts],” the Bluffton, Ind. native and Norwell High School graduate said. “It brings an even more special feeling that it is my hometown team, but at the end of the day I’m going in to win a job and compete and make the team. At some point, you have to put aside your childhood dreams of playing for your hometown team and just go out and compete and play football. Of course, the fact that it was the Colts is something I’ll never forget.”
Harnish, who earned the ceremonial title of “Mr. Irrelevant” as the last (253rd) pick in the 2012 draft, becomes the 33rd Northern Illinois player drafted and is the first Huskie to be selected since Larry English became the highest draft choice in school history when he was selected 16th by the San Diego Chargers in 2009. Harnish is the just the second quarterback in school history to get the call on draft day from the NFL, joining Jerry Golsteyn who was selected in the 12th round of the 1976 draft by the New York Giants with the 333rd pick.
Harnish, a 2012 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete who won the Vern Smith Leadership Award as the MVP of the Mid-American Conference, led NIU to a 22-5 record and a pair of bowl victories in his final two seasons as the starter. He also directed Northern Illinois to wins over Purdue (2009) and Minnesota (2010) during his Huskie career. By the end of his four-year tenure at NIU, he claimed 30 Northern Illinois records for rushing, passing and total offense.
“Congratulations to Chandler on getting drafted today,” said NIU head coach Dave Doeren. “Seeing players have a chance at the next level is another indication of the success of our program.”
Several of Harnish’s fellow 2011 seniors will represent the Huskies in NFL camps this spring as undrafted free agents.
Center Scott Wedige (Elkhorn, Wis./Elkhorn Area HS) signed a free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals, wide receiver Nathan Palmer (Elkhart, Ind./Central HS) will be in camp with the San Francisco 49ers and linebacker Pat Schiller (Geneva, Ill./Geneva HS) was picked up by the Atlanta Falcons in the hours immediately following the conclusion of the draft.
“We’re very excited as a coaching staff, as a team and as a university to see Chandler, Pat, Nate and Scott get a chance to continue to play football and follow their dreams in the NFL,” Doeren continued. “They have worked hard to get to this point; we wish them the best and know they are going to continue to make Northern Illinois proud.”
As “Mr. Irrelevant,” Harnish will be honored for a full week during “Irrelevant Week” in Newport Beach, Calif. where he will be invited to be grand marshal of a parade, visit Disneyland, go golfing, yachting and take in other local tourist attractions. Irrelevant Week was created in the spirit of “doing something nice for someone for no reason” and has honored the last pick in the NFL Draft since 1976.
“The Mr. Irrelevant is just the cherry on top (of the day),” Harnish said. “Whatever comes along with that, I’m thankful for. My mind is thinking football all the way, not anything else.”
Harnish reports to Indianapolis Thursday to begin rookie mini-camp. He will take snaps alongside the most highly touted quarterback in the draft, No. 1 selection Andrew Luck.
“I’m so proud to be a part of the quarterbacks in the draft this year,” Harnish said. “If you look at the history of college football, it’s some of the best quarterbacks ever. Some of those guys didn’t even get drafted, but all of them will get their opportunity and they’ll all do great. It definitely makes me excited and proud to be selected.”