Andrew Harris doesn’t need football.
He hasn’t been sitting on the couch twiddling his thumbs for the past 15 months waiting for the green light from the CFL to return to the field.
He’s probably busier now than ever.
Along with fellow Winnipegger D.J. Lalama, a linebacker for the Montreal Alouettes, Harris launched Pro Prep Academy last fall, a developmental program for student-athletes that strives to help them reach their goals on and off the field. He also founded Thirty3 Ventures, a sales, marketing and real estate development company.
Harris is starting to make a name for himself in the business world, but when it comes to football, he’s got absolutely nothing left to prove — or accomplish, really. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers star running back became the league’s all-time leader in yards from scrimmage by a Canadian player in 2019. And in case you forgot — after all, it was 551 days ago — Harris capped off that season by leading the Blue and Gold to their first Grey Cup title in 28 years and was named the game’s MVP and Most Outstanding Canadian.
Throw in the fact that there’s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the CFL and a 2021 season, the 34-year-old has every reason to call it quits on a hall of fame career.
So, why doesn’t he?
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t have that retirement thought in the back of my mind,” Harris told the Free Press Thursday.
“I think when I watch some clips and still see games, even when I go train, I still feel like there’s a fire in my belly that wants to keep me in this game. Every guy that I’ve played with that’s retired, they’ve always said ‘When you know, you know,’ and to play this game as long as you can because when it gets taken away from you, you’re really going to miss it. Even this past year, not being able to play, I really realized how much I missed the game. Just going into the locker room, grinding it out in training camp with a group of guys, there’s a lot of perspectives to go through and realize and understand that this game means a lot to me still. Yes, I could just walk away on top, but I still feel like I have more to give.”
While the passion is still there, it remains to be seen if he’s still the same player that dominated the 2019 Grey Cup against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with an incredible 134 rushing yards, 35 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. Running backs typically fall off a cliff in their 30s, but Harris remains on top of the mountain and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down as he’s led the CFL in rushing for the past three seasons. It’d almost feel silly to bet against him at this point, but you can’t rule out the fact that a nearly two-year absence from the sport might end up being what finally knocks him off.
“I guess we’ll just have to see. I think this year is going to be strange for a lot of players. I’ve said this from the beginning: I think the younger players are really going to struggle because they lost a year-and-a-half of development. That year and a half away from the game is really crucial,” said Harris.
“I think it’s gonna hurt a lot of older guys, too, because they’ll just be that much older and with Father Time. I think the guys in the mid-range will be just fine, but the biggest differences you’ll see is with the younger guys and the older guys on the back nine. I’m hoping that’s not gonna be me. I’m hoping I’ll be able to step back in there and keep being the same player that I was, but either way, I know my ability to contribute from a leadership standpoint and contribute in some way or fashion to help the team. We have a great stable of young running backs behind me who are chomping at the bit so that’s going to be motivating for myself as well.”
Harris re-signed with the Bombers on a one-year deal back in January. He’s ramped up his training this month in anticipation of CFL training camps starting in July and the season officially kicking off in August. That isn’t set in stone, however, as commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the league will likely make an official decision on the season in the middle of June.
“I’m pretty confident. I think with some of the provinces giving the OK and their return to play protocols, talking with some of the guys at the CFLPA on how the calls are going with the CFL, I’m fairly confident we’ll be playing this year,” he said.
“That’s one of the reasons why I’m back in the gym grinding it out for next season. Obviously, I’ve had to make sacrifices in my life to get back to training and things have slowed down with all the things that I’m doing, but for me, it’s an opportunity to get back out there with the guys and play the game that I love.”
Harris and his teammates were originally scheduled to host the Saskatchewan Roughriders at IG Field tonight for a preseason tilt. Instead, Manitobans find themselves in a position where they’re not allowed to go for a walk in the park with someone outside their household, never mind pack the stands to boo the Riders. It might be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel now, but Harris remains encouraged.
“When you sit back and think of all the health issues people have had and the financial burden that’s been on people not being able to work, I’m just happy that we’re getting into a better situation and there’s an opportunity for us to get back on the field with fans in the stands,” he said.
“I don’t really dwell on the past year or how rough it’s been because as crappy as it’s been for us, there’s been a lot of other people that have been in tougher situations. For me, I’m just excited overall for the province and all the great people in it that we’re going to get back to normalcy.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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