Veteran running back Andrew Harris eager to rejoin Argos in time for East final

TORONTO — Andrew Harris's recuperative powers haven't diminished with age.

The Toronto Argonauts veteran running back will play in the East final Sunday at BMO Field against the Montreal Alouettes. Harris, 35, suffered a torn right pectoral muscle in a 34-20 home win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Aug. 6, the severity of which had the franchise figuring his season was over.

The five-foot-10, 216-pound Winnipeg native also tore his left pectoral muscle in 2011 preparing for his second season with the B.C. Lions. He resumed playing in roughly 3 1/2 months and ultimately was named the top Canadian in the club's Grey Cup win over Winnipeg.

"When I tore my pec in 2011, it was in March and it was kind of the same story as this year," Harris said Thursday. "It was going to be a six-month injury and I was going to miss about half the season and this time I was going to miss the rest of the season.

"I was able to do it when I was 24 but I was a little discouraged at (having) to do it at 35."

But Harris never gave up hope about returning this season. He remained around the Argos while pushing himself with the goal of beating the odds.

Following surgery, Harris underwent blood spinning, a treatment where a patient's blood is spun in a centrifuge. After the platelets and plasma are isolated, they’re combined to produce a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) and injected back into the patient to help boost recovery speed.

It's something Harris didn't have the benefit of in 2011.

"It definitely helped increase healing, the range of motion and getting the blood moving in that area," Harris said. "Also working with the great Argos' staff and double-dipping with my doctor . . . .I was able to get back and have full confidence in being able to play this year, which is absolutely phenomenal and remarkable."

Harris was third in CFL rushing at the time of his injury with 490 yards on 114 carries (4.3-yard average) in his first season with Toronto. Earlier, he became the first Canadian-born player in league history to crack the 10,000-yard career rushing plateau and also surpassed Hall of Fame receiver Milt Stegall (15,209) for fourth on the league's all-time yards from scrimmage list.

With Harris sidelined, third-year American AJ Ouellette became Toronto's starting running back. He posted a team-high 516 rushing carries on 98 carries (5.3-yard average) with two touchdowns while adding 38 receptions for 350 yards and a TD.

That earned the five-foot-nine, 208-pound Ouellette an East Division all-star nod. But Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said Harris's return gives the Argos' offence more options, including the prospect of fresher players at running back.

"That's kind of the plan right now," Dinwiddie said. "Maybe sometimes we'll have them both on the field at the same time and I still want to get (Javon) Leake some touches, he's a pretty explosive guy as well.

"At this time of year when it starts getting colder, you have to be able to run the rock. That's the key."

On Thursday, Harris had more than just football on his mind. He also became a father for the second time with the birth of a son, Axton Jacob Harris. Harris also has a 14-year-old daughter.

"I definitely didn't think I'd have more kids, but life goes on and you get into a relationship where everything feels right," Harris said. "It's definitely a blessing and now I have my sweet girl and sweet boy, so life is good.

"I'm balanced."

Harris is also looking forward to resuming his season and helping Toronto reach the Grey Cup for the first time since 2017. He credits his teammates and Argos coaches for helping keep him engaged.

"A lot of guys when they go on the six-game or have season-ending injuries they take off right away," Harris said. "Seeing the guys work every day and being around them, being in the lockerroom really fast-tracked my motivation to want to get back on the field."

The injury gave Harris the opportunity to spend time with all of his teammates and even Argos coaches.

"When you're playing, you don't really get a chance to get to know everyone because you're focused on your body, your assignments, your meetings with your positional group and the offence," he said. "With this injury I was able to kind of get know guys from all sides of the ball and also instil myself a little bit with the coaching staff and gain a bit of a perspective of what the day-to-day is with them.

"I really saw the game from a different lens and gained a different appreciation. It's a testament to my surroundings, my teammates, the staff and obviously a little bit of luck with my genes in being able to heal at a faster pace."

Harris is especially grateful for the efforts of Ouellette, who not only shares the locker next to Harris but has become a close friend.

"When I got hurt, he got the guys to get a post-surgery care package for me, which says a lot about him," Harris said. "At the end of the day, most guys would look at that (rival's injury) and be happy about it, but he really went out of his way to show he cared and had compassion.

"We come from completely different worlds, but we've become pretty good friends throughout this journey. I love going into battle with him and I can't wait to be the other side of the two-headed monster with him and complement him and all the great things he's been doing."

And another testament to Ouellette's team-first approach was he how gained Harris's trust to start the season.

"When I was in there, I trusted him with my eyes and we really feed off each other that way," Harris said. "When I was down and he was up, I was that same way for him.

"I've passed on a lot of the nuggets, information and expertise I've gained over the last 12 years and he's really been a sponge with that. I have full confidence with him being a second set of eyes for me when I'm back there doing my thing."

Harris has no doubts he's ready to return to the field.

"I wouldn't be playing if I didn't feel I was able to do my job and do it at a high level," Harris said. "My biggest concern was not being cleared by the doctors . . . . but they kept pretty good track of my workouts and where I was at and obviously the Argos staff was on top of that as well.

"My biggest goal was gaining their confidence to allow me to push it every day and ultimately for them to clear me."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press