MALTA – When Chandler Harnish gives speeches to youth – as he did to a group of eighth-graders Friday at Kishwaukee College as part of Career Exploration Day – it’s not all about the NFL and Andrew Luck and the bowl games he played in at Northern Illinois.
The former Huskies quarterback also talks about mistakes he has made to make a point about learning from failures, and also as a way of relating to the audience.
“They look at you as an NFL football player and you’ve achieved everything, but you want to show them that, ‘Hey, I’ve been through the same situations,’ “ Harnish said. “I’ve had some bad actions, some bad consequences in my life. And a lot of these kids have probably done it, or have pressure in their life at the moment. So I want to connect and show them that I’m real.”
About 1,200 students attended the career expo between Thursday and Friday at the college, said Kayte Hamel, Kishwaukee College director of marketing and public relations. They were divided into groups of interest, with Harnish representing athletics.
He spoke for about 20 minutes to two groups of 30 to 40 students each from communities including DeKalb, Sycamore, Kirkland and Rochelle.
Much of Harnish’s speech focused on the three unique traits in the pro athletes he has known: They were goal-oriented, had high integrity and were different. He challenged the students to go home and write down a list of three goals they wanted to accomplish, then keep that list somewhere where they could see it every day – something his NIU teammate and NFL first-round draft pick Larry English did.
As for integrity, he said it matters how someone acts when they think no one is watching – adding that someone actually might be watching. He said that being different also was key, giving an example of doing extra work in your chosen sport or activity – an extra 30 minutes of music practice, or spending an extra hour shooting free throws or watching game film.
“It’s in my soul, part of my footprint I want to leave,” Harnish said. “My parents raised me to be everything and more, and really just leave a positive impact and be a beacon of light for people. The Lord has given me certain talents and has put me in the position to use those talents.”
During a question-and-answer session, Harnish was asked about Luck, the first pick in the same 2012 draft in which Harnish was the last pick – both by the Colts. Harnsih told the student he and Luck still are friends.
He also talked about mistakes he had made. He said while in high school in Indiana, he was caught at a party that had alcohol when he was 16. He also brought up his benching in the Huskies’ season opener in 2010. He had said he was “walking around like the big man on campus” at the time and that it hurt when it happened.
He stressed to the students that learning from mistakes is a pivotal part of life – pointing out that everyone makes mistakes sooner or later.
“It helps kids realize I’m a real person; I put my pants on the same way as they do,” Harnish said. “It allows them to be more engaged and allows them to take down a barrier.
“At the end of the day, what I want to do is motivate kids, but I also want to kind of help them grow up a little bit and understand it’s time to start making decisions for themselves and to start thinking about their future.”