MUNCIE – Forty minutes later he’s still outside the visitors’ locker room, pads and helmet and jersey shucked, only the football pants and white thermal undergear left to ward off the November chill.
Good to see you again, says Chandler Harnish, or words to that effect. His smile is still the smile that launched a thousand toothpaste ads. His quarterback’s paw swallows your writer’s hand whole.
A couple of other reporters linger, here at the end of Northern Illinois 59, Ball State 21. They ask the kid from Norwell High School about his day. They ask about the now 9-2 (7-0 in the Mid-American Conference) Huskies. They ask him if he ever thought he’d see the day when Northern would put up 65 on Toledo one week and 59 on Ball State the next.
Thinking back eight weeks ago when we were starting the MAC season, I didn’t know, Harnish replies. I mean, I didn’t know if we were a team that would put up 50 points a game every week. But we’ve definitely turned into a powerhouse.
I can only say I think it’s maturity. I think guys have finally understood what we’re trying to do under coach Kill’s philosophy as an offense. Guys have played a lot of football now that are in our offense, a lot of us are juniors and sophomores and things like that.
Guys. Us. Our.
Not once does Harnish mention that part of the story might be him, considering he’s having what will turn out to be the most prolific year of total offense (2,991 yards) in school history. Not once does he mention that he’s also, with a year left, the school’s career leader in total offense – or the night on national TV when he threw for 162 yards and ran for 149, and the color man gushed that Harnish was going to be the next great MAC quarterback to shine in the NFL.
It’s right about then you notice where Harnish is standing, on this afternoon a month ago now.
Under the bleachers. Away from the well-wishers. Hiding his light, as it were, beneath a bushel.
The divorce was amicable, one presumes.
Chandler Harnish and I parted company for keeps on good terms, with a minimum of fuss, somewhere between his freshman year at Northern (when he redshirted), the next season (when he set a freshman record for total offense with 2,067 yards) and this fall, when, recovering from offseason knee surgery, he didn’t even play in Northern’s season opener.
Fellow junior Demarcus Grady did, in a 27-10 loss to Iowa State. And even for Game 2, head coach Jerry Kill’s depth chart listed his starting quarterback as either/or, Grady or Harnish.
A dash of humility, in other words. And there went Harnish and I for keeps, even as he went on to throw for 2,230 yards and 20 touchdowns and rush for 764 yards more.
Now Northern is 10-3 and headed for a Humanitarian Bowl date Saturday with Fresno State, still smarting from a stunning last-second upset loss to Miami in the MAC title game. Harnish did what he could that night, throwing for a season-high 281 yards. He now has 6,960 total yards for his career.
None of it’s him, however.
I’ve said it before, I am just a completely different quarterback this year, he says. But it’s a team effort. The O-line has done a great job of giving me the protection to throw the passes, the wide receivers have made great catches, and the addition of coach Jim Zebrowski as my quarterback coach has just been monumental in my development as a quarterback.
Zebrowski came aboard this season on the recommendation of the former quarterbacks coach, Pat Poore, who moved over to coach the receivers. It was an example of selflessness that the Huskies in general, and Harnish in particular, took to heart. And everyone noticed.
Unbelievable maturity Chandler has gone through this year, said Kill, before leaving this month to take the Minnesota job. It’s been fun to watch, to be honest with you.
No matter how hard he tries to hide that light.