Going his own way
Mike Harrington heads to Idaho to make a gridiron name for himself
On the morning of Sept. 14, the Harrington family bus will cruise down Interstate 5 to invade Autzen Stadium for another football Saturday.
There will be a new twist, however.
'They'll all be decked in Vandal black and gold,' promises Mike Harrington.
Sacrilege? After a family tradition of Oregon football that dates to father John's days as a quarterback in the 1960s, there will be a changing of allegiances this fall Ñ at least for one afternoon.
Mike, brother of Joey, will be a redshirt freshman quarterback when visiting Idaho challenges the Ducks.
'You can't believe how hard it was for me to be the only Harrington to take a step away from the Oregon Ducks and go my own way,' says Mike, a 6-3 1/2, 190-pound former Central Catholic standout battling for the backup job in Moscow. 'But as I look back on it, I couldn't be happier. I'm so happy to be an Idaho Vandal.
'I am just excited to play a game in Autzen Stadium. That has always been my dream. To one day play in front of that crowd, no matter what side I am on, is going to be fun.'
'I love my brother'
No question, Mike is Joey's brother. His voice has the same timbre. He carefully measures his words and, at the same time, speaks eloquently and easily with the media, just as Big Bro does. The smiles, warm and quick, are plucked from the same gene pool.
But the Ducks didn't come calling for Mike, as they had Joey. After throwing for 2,900 yards and 38 touchdowns and earning second-team all-state honors as a senior at Central, Harrington considered scholarship offers from Boise State, Nevada-Las Vegas, Montana and Portland State before opting for Idaho.
'It was a good thing for me,' he says. 'It separated me (from Joey) enough, but not completely. It has given me a chance to make my own name.'
It's not been easy to live in the shadow of a Heisman Trophy finalist, one of the biggest names in the state's sporting history and the first-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, who also happens to be that guy who slept in the next bedroom for the first 14 years of your life.
'Going through high school, it was never Mike Harrington,' Mike says. 'It was always, 'Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington's little brother.' I always had that subtitle by my name, and it bothered me.
'But I got a good realization of what he goes through a couple of months ago. We went out to dinner at Cucina Cucina before a Blazer game, and we couldn't get a table because everyone was mobbing him, asking for autographs. It gave me an appreciation for what he goes through. It's a little thing I have to deal with, but there's worse.'
Not that Mike is resentful of Joey.
'I love my brother more than anything,' Mike says. 'We have been really close. This last month has been so tough on me. He has been to Detroit, to L.A., to here and there É he doesn't have that much time anymore.
'I realize our relationship is going to change a little bit. Maybe not for the better or worse, but it's going to change. The time you get to talk and see each other has to be that much more special.'
The Harringtons went together for a family vacation to Lake Shasta during Memorial Day weekend.
'That's going to be the last time I get to see Joe until next fall,' he says.
They surely will be passing notes about the 'West Coast' offense, which both will be employing next season.
'It's funny,' Mike says. 'The terminology (of the Lions and Vandals) is all the same. I listened to my phone messages one day after the draft, and it was like, 'Hey, Mike, this is Joe. Just calling to check in É actually, I'm lying. We run the same offense you do. I don't get it.' It was hilarious. Kind of humbled him a little bit.'
Harrington redshirted last season, running the scout team offense against Idaho's first-team defense each week.
'I think I made unbelievable strides, getting a feel for college football,' he says. 'It's a whole different game. The fast guys are faster, and the fat guys are as fast as me.'
Junior Brian Lindgren is the heir apparent to the starting quarterback job at Idaho. Sophomore Adam Mallette and Harrington are neck and neck for the No. 2 spot.
In the spring intrasquad game, Harrington completed seven of 14 passes for 154 yards and three TDs to lead the Silver team to a 24-17 win over the Gold.
'I wasn't consistent enough,' Harrington says. 'I did a good job of moving us downfield and scoring, but I haven't proved I can do all the stuff involved in our offense.'
That doesn't mean Harrington will settle for a bit role with the Vandals next season. He and Mallette are both listed No. 2, 'but I am confident I am 2-A,' Harrington says. 'I love both the guys I'm competing with, but I think it is a matter of time before I am physically ready to go.'
Will he wind up being the starter next season?
'I am not going to say that,' he says. 'I can't just take (Lindgren's) job. I have to outplay him on a consistent basis. I haven't done that.
'Do I think at some point next year I will be ready to play? Yeah. Our No. 2 QB gets to play a series each game. If I come out of (August training camp) No. 2, I will have put myself in position to play. That's all I can ask my freshman year.'
Harrington has made a positive impression on Bret Ingalls, the Vandals' offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
'Playing quarterback in our system takes a long time to learn,' Ingalls says. 'Mike has made a lot of progress. He has a chance to be a heck of a player. He has great anticipation and good, quick feet. He can get himself in a throwing position when he needs to.
'And he has a great mind for the game. He is a good leader. In the class he came in with, he has done a great job of being a guy the others follow and respect.
'He just needs to keep getting stronger and to gain experience. He has made tremendous strides quickly. We expect big things to happen for him.'
The coaches don't have to worry about Harrington's intelligence. A 3.9 student at Central, Mike pulled a 4.0 his first semester at Idaho. He is majoring in business marketing.
Opening games look tough
Mike Harrington returned home to the family's Laurelhurst home last week, but he will return to Moscow on Saturday to take a summer school class and prepare for the fall campaign.
The Vandals get a baptism in the big time as they begin preparing for their second season in the Sun Belt Conference.
Check out their first five games: Boise State, Washington State, Oregon, Washington, San Diego State. Playing a similar nonconference schedule last year, the Vandals started 0-5 en route to a 1-10 season.
'No team in the nation could win those first five games,' Harrington says, 'but we need the payday. We have to look at it like we want to play the best.'
For Harrington, 'play' is the operative word.
'My dream right now is to get on the college football field,' he says. 'If I can get on the field next year, even as the No. 2 (QB), that's a successful year. Joe had one of the most successful college careers ever, and he only played 2 1/2 years for the Ducks. He sat out half his college career just trying to get on the field.'