Veteran Canadian running back Harris wrapping his head around new role with Argos
Andrew Harris envisions a different role in what he anticipates will be the final season of his illustrious CFL career.
Last year, Harris went into Toronto's training camp as its starting running back after signing as a free agent. But the 35-year-old Winnipeg native, who last week signed a one-year deal with the Grey Cup-champion Argonauts, expects to split backfield reps with American A.J. Ouellette, who performed admirably after Harris suffered a torn pectoral muscle.
"I know my role is going to be a little different than it has in the past," Harris told reporters during a teleconference. "Those 25-touch games when I was 28 years old were a lot easier (to recover from) . . . but I just have to make sure my body is in good enough condition to get through that if we need to do that but ultimately it's not sustainable for myself at this age.
"And it takes a lot to admit that . . . but I still feel I have something to give and that's going to look different week to week. I want to go out with a great season, enjoy my teammates, enjoy going to very stadium . . . and just really take it all in."
Harris rejoined the Argos in time for the CFL playoffs, giving them a solid 1-2 rushing punch. He ran for 42 yards and a touchdown on nine carries in Toronto's 34-27 East Final win over Montreal while Ouellette had 38 yards rushing on six attempts.
Harris rushed for 55 yards n 10 carries in Toronto's stunning 24-23 Grey Cup victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who Harris helped win consecutive titles in 2019 and '22. Ouellette contributed 24 yards on six carries but scored two TDs, including the eventual game-winning five-yard scamper.
Harris pondered retirement this off-season but decided to chase a fifth career Grey Cup as Toronto began re-signing its pending free agents. Harris's first CFL championship came in 2011 with the B.C. Lions.
"As I started looking at different options . . . I was going back and forth," Harris said. "Seeing guys re-sign with the Argos and getting a picture of what the team would look like got me excited to do one more."
Harris admits Toronto lost some important pieces of its championship squad, most notably quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who signed with the USFL's New Orleans Breakers. But Harris feels backup Chad Kelly, whose key 20-yard run after Bethel-Thompson suffered a dislocated right thumb set up Ouellette's game-winning TD run, can assume control of the offence.
"I think what we saw from Chad is he's definitely a guy who likes to make big plays, he's not afraid to extend plays," Harris said. "Working with him and getting to know him a little better, he brings a different attitude, he brings a different energy than what you're accustomed to getting from a young quarterback.
"You're never going to be able to replace a leader like Mac, but I think Chad learned a lot from Mac in how to be a leader and quarterback in this league."
Harris is the top-rushing Canadian in CFL history with 10,151 yards on 1,903 carries (5.3-yard average) with 51 TDs. He also has 599 all-time catches for 5,403 yards and 32 touchdowns in 184 career regular-season games.
Harris enters the '23 season looking to move up the CFL's all-time rushing ranks. He's just 134 yards behind Charles Roberts (No. 5 with 10,285 yards) and needs 759 yards to surpass fourth-ranked Johnny Bright (10,909 yards).
"That was definitely a little bit of a factor," he said. "To be at this juncture of my career and have a team still want to bring you on and think you have value, to me, is really inspiring.
"To try and chase my fifth Grey Cup is ultimately the biggest (reason). My goal this year is, 'Drive for Five.' We're going to put our best foot forward. I'm just here to help impact this team any way possible."
Harris will visit Winnipeg's IG Field (Sept. 29) in his final CFL campaign. But Toronto won't be at B.C. Place Stadium in 2023.
"That one (B.C.) is going to sting a bit," Harris said. "That (Sept. 29) will be circled once we get the season going, for sure.
"I'm really looking forward to coming to IG Field but I'm also looking forward to going to every stadium."
Harris left the door open on a '24 CFL season, albeit slightly.
"Maybe, for some crazy reason, I might be like, 'Let's do one more,'" he said. "I think I'm just ready to move on with life, get into another field and do something different."
Last month, Harris was named head of football operations for the Vancouver Island Raiders, a junior football franchise in Nanaimo, B.C. Before embarking on his CFL career, Harris played for the club, leading it to three national championships (2006, 2008-09).
In 2009, Harris received the Wally Buono Award as Canada's top junior player while also being on the Lions' practice roster. In 2024, Harris will also assume the Raiders head-coaching position.
"For me, it's kind of a full circle thing where I'm going to give back to the team that gave me so much and got me to where I'm at," he said. "The coaching role is something I wanted to do.
"I wanted to start at the grassroots level and prove myself in that role. Maybe in a few years I'll be back in the CFL with a different role."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press