OSSIAN – You can find the last smiling days of Chandler Harnish’s summer here, a short drive south between the head-high corn and deep green soybeans of a supremely blessed growing season, in the place where Harnish once made Friday night lights incandescent.
That would be Norwell High School, of course. And if the building itself slumbers the summer away on this warm Monday evening, the signs that autumn is on deck suddenly are everywhere.
Out here, just behind the football stadium, kids in navy helmets and numbered jerseys are trotting onto the green grass. Snaps are being taken. Here and there a football spirals or quacks or wobbles across the blue sky like a rickety chair, and if the sweat beading up on your forehead and trickling down the small of your back tells you July is still in full force, those footballs tell another story.
So does Harnish – whose second training camp with the Indianapolis Colts is just five days away, and who’s using those five days to squeeze a little more fun from the game before it goes back to being a business again.
This is something I hope goes over really well and the kids get excited for and just have a great time, he says now, 45 minutes before Norwell’s annual football camp gets going. I know when I was their age, I would have just jumped out of my shoes for an opportunity like this to come out here with some college players and an NFL guy and have fun and learn and compete.
There will be 170 of them out here doing that, third through eighth grade, all presumably future Norwell Knights. The Colts are paying the entry fees for all of them, which explains the Colts tackling dummies and assorted other gear scattered about. Seems they came to Harnish to ask whether he wanted to do something in his hometown this summer, and Harnish jumped at it.
What he’ll teach them, you figure, is that you give the game everything you can even when it doesn’t seem the game is giving much back. That’s where Harnish is right now, seeing how he goes to training camp behind 2012 rookie sensation Andrew Luck and veteran NFL standout Matt Hasselbeck on the quarterback depth chart. The writing is on the wall, he says, but that doesn’t mean he has to spend all his time reading it.
I go in there every day and prepare like I’m a starter, says Harnish, who surrendered his No. 8 jersey to Hasselbeck, and got $8,000 to donate to charity in return, by nailing a halfcourt basketball shot to win a friendly wager. I’m gonna compete like I’m the No. 1 guy, make that room better.
And back at Norwell, meanwhile, just shy of two hours north from his day job, he’ll have an opportunity to make his alma mater better, too. The school board gave him the nod to be a volunteer coach when he’s able, so there’ll be a few road trips between Indy and Ossian.
Maybe that’s happened before, somewhere, an active NFL player helping coach his high school alma mater. Likely it hasn’t happened much, however.
Colts first, says Harnish of that. My career is first. But whenever I have a day like this, I can come out and help spread my influence a little better. If there’s ever a bye week where I can come home for a couple days, be here for practice, maybe catch a game, I’ll do that.
It’s fun to be out here and, like I said, just spread my influence any way I can.
Any way. Anywhere.