Just days after celebrating a season-ending victory in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala., a quartet of Northern Illinois University senior football players are taking a step toward a future in professional football as they begin training for postseason collegiate all-star games.
Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, named an honorable mention All-American by SI.com after a record-setting 2011 campaign and stellar four-year career, will play Saturday, Jan. 21, in the 87th annual East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Fla.
A native of Bluffton, Ind., Harnish earned Most Valuable Player honors in the Huskies’ 38-20 victory over Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl after throwing for 274 yards on 18-of-36 passing with two touchdowns.
That performance capped a season that saw Harnish throw for 3,216 yards and 28 touchdowns while completing 237-of-384 passes (61.7 percent) and rush for a team-leading 1,379 yards on 194 carries with 11 touchdowns. He averaged 7.1 yards per carry and was the top rushing quarterback in the country this season. Harnish’s 4,595 yards of total offense were the fourth-highest total in the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2011. He is one of only four FBS quarterbacks all-time to throw for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in a single season with his rushing totals higher than any other signal-caller to accomplish the feat.
Harnish won the Vern Smith Leadership Award as the Mid-American Conference’s Most Valuable Player and was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. A semifinalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Trophy, he was one of 16 individuals across all divisions of college football to be named a National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete, earning an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship.
Harnish is currently one of three quarterbacks listed on the West Squad roster for the East-West Shrine Game, which will be televised by the NFL Network with kickoff at 3 p.m. (CT) from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. The teams will be coached by Brad Childress and Bobby Ross.
On the same day, three of Harnish’s NIU teammates – offensive linemen Scott Wedige and Trevor Olson and linebacker Pat Schiller – will participate in the 2012 Astroturf NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles, Calif.
The game, which will kickoff at 1 p.m. (CT) on the NBC Sports Network, will feature head coaches Tom Flores and Dick Vermeil.
Wedige and Olson both garnered All-America honors in 2012 with Wedige a second team choice at center by CBSports.com, while Olson was named to Phil Steele’s fourth-team All-America squad.
They were two-fifths of a veteran offensive line that led one of the most potent offenses in the nation in 2011. NIU ranked 12th in the nation in both rushing and scoring offense, and were 10th in fewest sacks allowed with just 12 given up in 14 games this year.
Olson started a school-record 54 games – every game of his collegiate career – over the past four seasons, while Wedige was a two-year starter on Northern Illinois teams that went 22-6.
Schiller led the 2012 Huskie defense with a career-best 115 tackles, 10 for loss, from his middle linebacker position. He finished his NIU career with 239 tackles. One of only three seniors on defense for the 2011 Huskies, he led a young unit that improved throughout the season and gave up 20 points or fewer in four of NIU’s last five games.
In its first season under head coach Dave Doeren, the Huskies tied the school record with 11 wins while winning NIU’s first Mid-American Conference Championship since 1983. Northern Illinois goes into 2012 with nine consecutive victories, and will enter the season with the nation’s longest winning streak.
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.