Former Norwell High School quarterback Chandler Harnish started the season as the second-string quarterback at Northern Illinois University, waiting to prove his knee and skills were still intact.
Four weeks later, he's one of the Mid-American Conference's players of the week and playing better than anytime in his career.
“It's an unbelievable story, to be quite honest,” Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill said. “With the situation with his knee, I figured he'd be recovering from surgery right now. It's unbelievable what the kid's doing. He continues to improve each week.”
Harnish, a redshirt junior, completed 16 of 20 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns in Northern Illinois' 50-14 win over Akron last week to earn the MAC's West Division Offensive Player of the Week honor.
Harnish finished last season with a sore right knee, the result of an injury against Toledo last Oct. 17. After the season, he was told he would likely need to undergo surgery to repair structure damage. By the spring, however, the pain subsided and he avoided surgery.
The only thing left was winning his job back. Harnish entered the fall as the backup to DeMarcus Grady. Grady started the first game of the season, a loss to Iowa State. Harnish regained the starting spot the next week.
Since then, Northern Illinois has won three of four – including a win over Minnesota – and Harnish has completed 60 of 87 passes for 716 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception. He has also rushed for 311 yards and two scores.
“Compared to last year, my confidence is 10 times greater than what it was,” Harnish said. “Experience is the key, playing more and more football, building that confidence and going out and executing the game plan.”
Kill said Tuesday that the play of Harnish will be a key for Northern Illinois as it plays Temple this week and tries to pursue a MAC title.
“You are as good as your quarterback, and our quarterback is playing very good football right now,” Kill said. “It's a credit to him and (quarterback coach) Jim Zebrowski. Jimmy has done a great job with him. Chandler has really grasped things. He's making less mental errors and throwing it where our receivers can catch the football.”
Harnish also is responsible for making adjustments and audible calls as Northern Illinois works its no-huddle offense.
“I'm pretty amazed with what happened the last six or seven months,” Harnish said. “My future was up in the air and I didn't know what was going to happen.”
Harnish is back on track now, and so is Northern Illinois.
“Chandler reached down in there and he's shown he's a guy who fights back, and fights through adversity, and that's helping him in his play,” Kill said. “Each week that goes by, he's getting better and getting more confidence. When you're confident, you make great plays.”