Brady Oliveira ready to step up and fill the shoes of ‘big brother’ Andrew Harris

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When local legend and future Hall of Fame running back Andrew Harris moved on from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this off-season, Brady Oliveira knew it was time to start writing his own name into the city’s football lore.

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After winning three CFL rushing titles and two Grey Cups in five seasons with the Bombers, 35-year-old Harris signed with the Toronto Argonauts in February.

With 24-year-old Oliveira waiting in the wings, the Bombers were not able to find a salary number and promise of a role that were satisfactory for Harris.

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The day he left, Oliveira became the man in the Bombers’ backfield and he certainly seems to be ready to take on the job head on.

“We all knew this time was going to come and it just happened to be this season,” Oliveira said. “I’m extremely excited about the opportunity ahead of me. I have big shoes to fill but I work extremely hard. I’ve had lots of success and I’m gonna keep playing Brady-style football and it’s going to work.”

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Oliveira won’t be alone in the Bombers’ backfield. Johnny Augustine could also see lots of snaps and has proven in the past that he is a dynamic runner and pass-catcher.

However, Oliveira was the first one who got the ball last year when Harris was hurt and there’s no reason to think it will be different this year.

“Everything that Andrew taught me throughout the years, I appreciate that a lot,” Oliveira said. “He looked at me as a little brother and he worked with me a lot. I tried to model my game after certain things that he does.

“He’s one of the greatest Canadian running backs ever to play this game. I appreciate everything he’s done for me but it’s time for me now to take over at the running back position.

“There’s definitely things about his game that are similar with mine, but there’s definitely things that are different. You’ll never be the exact player he was. Everyone has his own, unique, traits.”

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PRE-SEASON GAME MOVED

The Bombers were supposed to play a CFL pre-season game on Victoria Day in Regina, but that game has been moved on the schedule as a result of the now-ended players’ strike.

The Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders will now meet on May 31 in Regina, instead of May 23.

The move was made to allow both teams to have time to prepare after missing four days of training camp while a new collective bargaining agreement was negotiated between the players and the league.

“It’s nice to have two pre-season games,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said. “If you only had one, that’s tough to evaluate players.

Making sure that they got that second pre-season game added is important. Even if there were no pre-season games, like last year, we were still able to evaluate and find some players. If they practice well and play well and they are engaged in meetings, we’ll find them. Bit it’s good that we got the second one in.”

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The Bombers will now open their pre-season schedule on May 27 at IG Field against the Edmonton Elks. They will have only three days off before playing again on May 31.

It’s likely they will use many different players in the two games.

The Roughriders will have to play two games only three days apart. They are set to play in Vancouver against the B.C. Lions on June 3.

The Bombers are slated to open the regular season at home on Friday, June 10, against the Ottawa Redblacks.

‘SKY IS THE LIMIT’

Now that the task of negotiating a new CBA is taken care of, Bombers player rep and CFLPA vice-president Adam Bighill is back to thinking about what his team can do this season.

The Bombers won the Grey Cup in both 2019 and 2021 (there was no season in 2020) and they have brought back most of the players that made them back-to-back champions.

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“I feel like the sky is the limit,” Bighill said. “We’ve got a lot of great guys that have been around here and won Grey Cups and we brought a bunch of new great guys into the fold. It’s time to find out how everybody fits together.

“Every year is a new journey and you’ve got to go take it and earn it every single year. That’s no different now. This is a building process. We haven’t done anything and we need to continue to come out and remember that and earn it every day.”

BONDING DURING STRIKE

While they weren’t able to formally practice during the strike, the Bombers players were housed and fed as a group, as they normally would be in training camp, and that gave them a chance to establish a bond.

“The great part of camp is you’re living in the same dorms together, you’re eating lunch together,” quarterback Zach Collaros said. “Obviously, we all miss our families and want to be with them, but at the same time, we’re all trying to get to know each other.

“We didn’t have a ton of time on the field so there was more time playing cards, watching the basketball games, watching the hockey games, those kind of things. Getting reacquainted with some old teammates and also meeting some new faces so it was cool.”

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