Toronto's Harris, Winnipeg's Oliveira friendly combatants in Grey Cup

REGINA — The mentor and his protégé are a subplot of Sunday's Grey Cup game.

Among the ties that bind Toronto Argonauts running back Andrew Harris and Winnipeg Blue Bombers counterpart Brady Oliveira is that the latter learned what it takes to be a premiere running back during Harris's years with the Bombers.

Harris was the CFL's rushing leader from 2017 to 2019. He won Grey Cups with the B.C. Lions (2011) and with the Blue Bombers (2019, 2021). Oliveira spent his first two CFL seasons learning his trade from Harris.

"He's arguably one of the best ever to play running back in the Canadian Football League," Oliveira said Thursday. "So the fact that I had the opportunity to sit behind him, learn and kind of just see how he attacks every single day, I think it benefited my game."

Oliveira's breakout season of 1,001 rushing yards ranked the 25-year-old third in the CFL this season.

His relationship with Harris pre-dates the Blue Bombers. Both born and raised in Winnipeg, and both Oak Park High School football alumni, Harris, 10 years senior, mentored Oliveira as a teenager.

"Brady was training with me back when he was 13 or 14 years old," Harris said. "Talking with him through his youth years and once we signed him with Winnipeg, I took him under my wing, he sat right beside me and asked lots of questions. I tried to just give him little tips and little nuggets and little things he can improve on."

The Bombers extending the contracts of Oliveira and Johnny Augustine sent Harris to free agency in February, when he signed with the Argos.

Football business can be cold, particularly because Harris was the first player to win both Grey Cup MVP and Most Valuable Canadian in 2019 when the Bombers ended a 28-year championship drought with a win over Hamilton in Calgary.

He ran for 80 yards last year in Hamilton in another Grey Cup victory for Winnipeg over the Ticats.

"This is about the Argos and my teammates and playing for them," Harris said. "It's not about me versus Winnipeg, or mad about anything or a chip on my shoulder. It's about my teammates, and going out to try to get other ring."

The veteran will pursue a fourth ring Sunday against his former club in what could be his last CFL game.

"It could be, yeah," Harris said.

He's proud of Oliveira's rise, even if it contributed to his exit from the Blue Bombers.

"Brady has all the skill sets for sure," Harris said. "He's physical. He's fast. He's extremely strong, great balance. He's got great vision. He's a complete package and he can catch the ball in the backfield as well. He's great at blocking, so he can do it all."

Harris maintains close friendships with Oliveira and another Oak Park alum, Bombers slotback Nic Demski. The three men are expected to be factors in Sunday's game at Mosaic Stadium.

"We've got to expect Andrew's best every single time we play him," Oliveira said. "He's one of the greatest to ever play in this league.

"He's a proud Winnipegger just like I am, so it's going to be a little weird and he probably feels the same thing playing in a Grey Cup and it's not in that Bomber uniform, but it's in an Argos uniform."

Stu Nixon coached Harris, Oliveira and Demski at Oak Park and will attend Sunday's game in Regina.

"What really made those guys different — and they all come from different backgrounds — but they were focused and made even the little choices in terms of their day-to-day living," Nixon told The Canadian Press. "They had a drive to get where they are, even in high school. It was important to them. They talked about it openly.

"There's lots of guys that said that, but they also went out and partied on Friday night and skipped practice and didn't go to class. Those guys made good choices in terms of the classroom, in terms of the work ethic that was required, in terms of the lifestyle that you need to live."

Harris, Oliveira and Demski earning championship rings with the Bombers in 2019 and 2021 was a source of pride for Nixon, and he's no less proud with Harris wearing Argonauts blue in Sunday's Grey Cup.

"I'll have no mixed feelings at all," Nixon said. "I'll be extremely happy if the following occurs: Andrew Harris gets 150 rushing yards, 80 yards in the air, one touchdown, wins Canadian of the game, and Brady and Nic go home with the Cup."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press