DeKALB – When Jim Zebrowski took over as Northern Illinois’ quarterbacks coach in January, he thought junior quarterback Chandler Harnish was special.
Harnish, a leader with two years of starting experience under his belt, also had all the skills. But Zebrowski said what Harnish really lacked was belief in his capabilities.
That carried over into summer training camp, when Harnish – then behind fellow junior DeMarcus Grady after missing most of spring practice with a knee injury that did not require surgery – often would hang his head after questionable throws but also would show flashes of brilliance.
“I’m not going to lie, it was tough during two-a-days,” Harnish said. “It really was, being the second- sometimes third-string quarterback. It was not easy (after) being a two-year starter.”
But Harnish didn’t air his frustrations, saying and doing the right things as Grady earned the start for the season opener at Iowa State.
“When he got the news, he could’ve sulked,” Zebrowski said. “But you saw him on the Iowa State sidelines. He was cheering guys on, being a team player. He handled it like you hope kids would handle it. He handled it unbelievably.”
“I wasn’t mad at the coaches or anything,” Harnish said. “I was mad at myself because there were days I’d be up and down. More so, I was mad at my own performance. Sometimes, I’d ask ‘Why?’ But the one thing I’d do was try to keep a positive attitude.”
Just a month later, Harnish is playing the best football of his NIU career, according to Huskies coach Jerry Kill.
Without Harnish and his career-best 178 rushing yards, NIU’s 23-17 Week 2 win over North Dakota likely would have had a different outcome. Harnish had 315 total yards of offense in a 28-22 loss at Illinois and led the Huskies to its second upset of a Big Ten team in two years with two touchdown passes against Minnesota last week.
“It’s been the most crazy roller-coaster ride emotionally probably that I’ve been through in the game of football,” Harnish said.
So what’s changed inside Harnish’s noggin?
He said he had minimum hesitation about his knee in training camp. Rather, competing for the starting job sent Harnish into the depths of self-doubt. But he’s emerged a better quarterback and leader.
“It gave me a new perspective on the game of football,” Harnish said.
“Coach Kill does a great job with the team of developing men. It’s more than just football for him, and that’s a great thing because at the end of the day this sport’s going to come to an end someday. He really has helped me grow up as a person. I’ve got this opportunity, now I just want to take advantage of it.”