November 9, 2018
In the eyes of University of Saint Francis football coach Kevin Donley, an impressive national honor for senior linebacker Piercen Harnish is only the beginning.
Harnish was selected as one of the 13 finalists for the National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame 2018 William V. Campbell Trophy, an award that recognizes the best football scholar-athlete in the country.
Donley sees even bigger things for Harnish in the years ahead.
“If he wants to be a CEO, he can,” Donley said. “If he wants to go into politics, he’ll succeed. If he wants to be a football coach, he could do my job right now.”
Each of the 13 Campbell Trophy finalists will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship and will be part of the 61st NFF Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 4 at the New York Hilton Midtown. The winner will be announced at the dinner and have his scholarship increased to $25,000.
Harnish is a finance major who recently began part-time work at Shelton Financial after spending time with Ash Brokerage. Harnish, who sports a 3.96 GPA, aspires to a career as a financial advisor.
The Campbell Trophy finalist honor recognizes his on- and off-field commitment to excellence. Harnish is the first USF player to become a finalist.
“I was completely surprised,” Harnish said. “Just to get in the Top 180 was an honor. To be in the Top 13, I was blown away. To be up against a guy like Drue Tranquill (University of Notre Dame; Carroll High School) is tremendous. I’ve always looked up to Drue. To be in the same group, there’s no words to describe it.”
Harnish’s brother Chandler was a finalist for the award as a quarterback at Northern Illinois University in 2011. Chandler Harnish later spent time in the NFL after being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts.
Other brothers who have been finalists for the Campbell Trophy were Peyton and Eli Manning and Matt and Jon Stinchcomb.
“It’s a great honor and Chandler is happy for me, but he’s probably thinking, ‘I can’t one-up him in this one,’ ” Harnish said, jokingly.
Earlier this season, Harnish broke the Saint Francis record for tackles in a career, set by Brian Kurtz (2003-06). Harnish has three of the top eight regular-season tackle totals in program history. He was a second-team NAIA All-American last year and VSN NAIA National Defensive Player of the Year, and named as a preseason NAIA All-American this fall.
Since arriving on campus out of Norwell High School, Harnish has been an outstanding leader, Donley said.
Another part of consideration for the award is a player’s volunteer efforts. Harnish has worked on team housebuilding projects in El Salvador and Jamaica, worked with the Fort Wayne Chapter of Forgotten Children, and worked with Fort Wayne Treasure House. He also volunteers for a wheelchair basketball tournament.
“He always does the right thing and he always does things with maximum effort,” Donley said. “He’s a team player. He’s a ‘we’ guy, not a ‘me’ guy. His body language is always uplifting. He’s mentally tough. When your back’s against the wall, you can always count on Piercen Harnish.”
Harnish married his high school sweetheart, Arissa, in 2017 and they recently had their first son, Jaxson.
Harnish believes the demands on his time are all worth it.
“You have to do some stuff late at night sometimes,” Harnish said.
“Obviously, things come before football when you’re a husband and father, so your priorities are changing. My time has just changed. I wouldn’t say I’m making sacrifices, but just changing my life for the better.”
A very organized person, Harnish would love the opportunity to continue his football career as a professional. But he also realizes the odds are stacked against a player from the NAIA.
“I think it’s every child’s dream,” he said. “But I’m a statistic guy and 99.6 percent of athletes go on to careers outside of professional sports. For guys coming from small colleges, it’s a really big grind to get there. You see players who have earned every award in smaller college sports and it’s so hard for them to make it. There are cats coming from everywhere. But if it ever came my way, I’d jump at the opportunity.”