By Jim Hopkins
When Chander Harnish landed with the Indianapolis Colts, his favorite pro team, he had to shake himself into reality quickly so he could compete for a job.
"That's when I perform my best, when expectations are high, goals are high and I have something to shoot for," said the former Norwell High School and Northern Illinois standout quarterback.
"I went in there thinking, 'hey, I'm a Colt, I have to put that dream aside and make it a reality,' and I think that attitude definitely paid off that first year," Harnish said Monday afternoon at a press conference held at Decatur's Back 40 Junction.
Harnish and Colts spokesman Josh Bleill addressed a large audience at Bellmont High School, then signed autographs and mingled with those attending after the session.
While Harnish's story has to be an inspiration to Indiana youngsters who dream of a pro football career, Bleill is an example of a man who is making the best he possibly can after a huge personal setback, losing both legs while serving as a Marine in Iraq.
While recovering from his injuries in 2006, Bleill received a visit from Colts owner Jim Irsay, who promised him an opportunity with the club. Bleill made his life adjustments, and then went to work with the Colts.
"When I first got back, I was angry, and a bottled that up and hid within the hospital," he noted.
"I didn't want to go out in public, then I got to watch the Colts beat the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. That was something I just could not pass up. Being in front of people again, I realized God had a bigger plan than what I had, It was bigger than the outside physical part, and it wasn't about me, it was about getting back to doing things for Him. Watching Coach Dungy at the time, he and his faith had a big impact on me," explained Bleill, who does inspirational speaking to about 200 groups a year, representing the Colts.
Chandler is the son of Ron and LeeAnn (Mitchel) Harnish of northern Wells County. His grandparents are Carolyn and the late Pierce Harnish of the Bluffton area, and Bob and Pat Mitchel of the Monroe area. There are numerous Mitchel family athletes who have excelled for Adams Central, and Chandler's brother, sophomore Piercen, quarterbacked the Norwell football team last fall. His sister, Carlee, is a three-sport standout for the Knights in this, her senior year.
Chandler's dad is Ron Harnish, who has been an assistant coach and middle school coach at Norwell for 31 years, in various sports.
Harnish had the distinction of being the final draft pick in 2012, a position known as Mr. Irrelevant. He was given a free California vacation for his family for that honor, then used the chance he had to make the Colts and continue his career.
The Colts, too, saw something in Harnish, a passing a rushing force for over three seasons with Northern Illinois.
"They drafted me, so they obviously had some interest. I think I made some improvements throughout the season, just through practice time and spending extra time on the field with my quarterback coach. I look at this coming year as a great opportunity. We'll see what happens," said Chandler, who spent six weeks on the regular Colts roster before injuries to other players made his spot valuable, and he was put on the practice squad.
"I was okay with that. I felt they valued me as a person and as a player. I was very content with where I was. That doesn't mean I was happy being a third string quarterback. I was working everyday, but I was happy being an Indianapolis Colt and still am today," Chandler declared.
The starter was No. 1 pick Andrew Luck, who did a great job as the Colts won 11 games and made the playoffs. Drew Stanton, the No. 2 quarterback, is now a free agent and may not be back next season.
"One of the things I most appreciate about Andrew is that fact that he is down to earth, humble, and doesn't buy into the hoopla and media. When times are good and when times are bad he just goes about doing his routine. It's just been a whole lot of fun to be around him," said Harnish.
Bleill is kept plenty busy by the Colts. "I like working for the Colts, and I'll be hanging out with them for awhile, doing the speaking thing, and now I have a book, 'One Step at a Time.'
"The Colts had me write it and that's another thing I never thought I'd do. I've read like three books in my lifetime. In the book, it was more about telling the Marine stories, not just about me, but everybody who has served this country," explained Bleill, now 35 years old.
Bleill and his wife, Nikki, have a two-year-old daughter Ali, and a four-month-old son, Gunner, named after one of the survivors (machine gunner) of his group that was torn apart by a bomb in Iraq. Two of his comrades died in that incident.
"I loved it, I loved serving. It was fun and it was what I wanted to do. I see those guys (I served with) all the time. They are my lifelong friends."
The Colts, apparently, know how to pick outstanding young men. They also know how to stand by them.