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Courtesy photo
Northern Illinois’ Chandler Harnish has 1,087 passing yards this year.

Norwell grad blossoms as quarterback

– A little past the halfway mark of his third season as the quarterback at Northern Illinois, Chandler Harnish admits, “It’s the best time of my life.”

The same could be said for the Huskies’ program.

Behind Harnish, the former Norwell standout who led the Knights to the 2006 Class 3A state championship game, Northern Illinois takes a four-game winning streak into its home game against Central Michigan on Saturday.

Before Harnish ran for a touchdown and threw for two more in last week’s 45-14 carving of Buffalo, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior was spectacular in back-to-back wins over Temple and Akron. His combined 36-of-45 passing performance for 492 yards and five touchdowns earned him consecutive Mid-American Conference West Division offensive player of the week honors.

“It’s a fun experience right now,” said Harnish, who leads the MAC in passing efficiency. “This probably is the best football that Northern Illinois has played since I’ve been here, and it’s really fun to be a part of.”

The Huskies (5-2, 3-0 MAC) are tied for first in the West Division with Toledo.

With 1,087 passing yards this season, Harnish has moved up to fifth place on the all-time list at Northern, just 600 yards behind No. 4. And he’s got another season to try to chase the 6,782 number put up by George Bork in the early 1960s.

“This is my third year with the coaching staff, and I’m finally starting to feel like a quarterback,” Harnish said. “I’m relaxed in the pocket, and I feel, for the most part, I’m making the right reads and I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my quarterback coach, Jim Zebrowski. He’s helped me out a lot over the last six to eight months.”

Because of his size and speed, Harnish was touted by bigger schools as a safety. That’s where some Big Ten teams saw him. But when Northern Illinois offered him a shot at quarterback, there was no hesitation as to where he was headed.

“Whenever we play those teams I want to go out and I want to play the best football game of my life just to show them what they missed out on,” he says.

He already has wins over Purdue and Minnesota.

What’s next?

Harnish knows the history of the MAC and how it has been a fertile training ground for NFL starting quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Frye, Bruce Gradkowski.

“A lot of times I’m sitting there watching an NFL game and I think to myself, ‘Man, I can make that throw,’ or, ‘I can make those reads,’ ” he says.

“I definitely feel that I have the opportunity and I have the ability to at least try out at the next level.”

Athletes of note

IPFW senior volleyball player Maya Schlindwein was named Summit League offensive player of the week. She had 39 kills in a pair of victories over South Dakota State and North Dakota State. … Saint Francis freshman Chelsea Rogers was named MCC libero of the week after averaging 25.6 digs in helping the Cougars to a 3-2 record over the week. … Manchester’s Braden Nelson (Angola) was named HCAC men’s cross country runner of the week. He finished third in the Manchester Invitational. … Manchester’s Dian Radev scored two goals in the final moments of the Spartans’ 2-1 win over Rose-Hulman and was named HCAC men’s soccer player of the week.

Steve Warden covers area colleges for The Journal Gazette. He may be reached by e-mail at, by phone at 461-8477, or by fax at 461-8648.