As he progressed through his high school and college careers, Chandler Harnish frequented Colts games and thought he was good enough to do what the guys on the NFL field were doing.
“I used to think, ‘Hey, that guy’s not much better than me.’ Now it’s become a reality,” said Harnish, the Bluffton native who survived the last round of cuts and was placed on the Colts’ 53-man roster Friday night.
The former Norwell and Northern Illinois star impressed during the preseason, completing 27 of 47 passes for 406 yards with two touchdowns and an interception as the Colts went 2-2.
“This is a huge day for me,” said Harnish, who was the 253rd and final player taken in the 2012 draft but is below first-overall pick Andrew Luck and veteran Drew Stanton on the Colts’ depth chart at quarterback.
“This is a dream come true. But at the same time, in my mind, nothing has changed. I have to go to work every day and prove I’m a necessity for the team. … I appreciate the Colts and management for giving me this opportunity. Now I have to prove why I belong.”
Harnish, 24, ensured himself a spot with the Colts, who went 2-14 last year, with his performance in Thursday’s 20-16 victory over Cincinnati. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder led Indianapolis on three touchdown drives in the come-from-behind victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. He was 9 for 16 for 162 yards and a touchdown.
“Once Chandler calms down, he’s been able to be productive and move this offense,” Colts first-year coach Chuck Pagano told reporters. “I think Chandler is right where he needs to be.”
Harnish knows that he will get on the field this season only if there are injuries or a lopsided game, and he needs to be able to succeed as soon as he’s on the field.
“I need to start faster,” he said. “The last couple games, I came out and had some slow starts and couldn’t get in a rhythm right away. I had to get the tempo going and show my teammates I can make plays.”
But under the pressure-filled circumstances of Thursday’s preseason game, less than a day before 21 players were cut, Harnish showed his moxie.
“If you go back to the game, I was incredibly anxious because I knew it was a huge evaluation for me and many guys,” Harnish said. “I was looking forward to proving what I could do. We won the game. I had some ups and downs, but a win is what matters, and I thought we did some things as an offense. Then it was stressful (Friday), and to not get a phone call was huge. Then, I finally saw (I wasn’t cut) on Twitter, and that felt awfully good.”
There were several quarterbacks waived around the league – including Mike Kafka, whom Colts general manager Ryan Grigson helped draft in Philadelphia – so Harnish could remain on shaky ground.
Other local players who remain on NFL rosters include Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer (Bishop Luers) and Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard (South Side).
Offensive lineman Trai Essex (Harding) was cut by the Steelers, while punter Jason Baker (Wayne) is a free agent.