Argonauts’ Harris gearing up for CFL swan song as life after football approaches
After four Grey Cup titles and 12 seasons in the Canadian Football League, Toronto Argonauts running back Andrew Harris is gearing up for his last act.
Coming off a Grey Cup-winning season with the Double Blue last season, when he rushed for 490 yards in eight games – as a torn pectoral muscle sidelined him for most of the 2022 regular season – Harris is back for one more kick at the can, as he signed a one-year deal in the off-season to return and chase a fifth ring.
But why didn't the 36-year-old ride off into the sunset after hoisting the Grey Cup above his head in Regina after beating his former team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, in the 109th Grey Cup?
"I still felt like I have some more to give," Harris told TSN.
"I know the team [the Argonauts] was really adamant about me coming back. They wanted to have one: the leadership I bring into the locker room. And just really looking forward to me bringing that role in."
"And especially when we lose a guy like Mac [Starting quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson who left the CFL to join the United States Football League’s New Orleans Breakers] just kind of fill that void or try to help and be more of a leader this year."
That's not to say that calling it a career after last season wasn't something Harris didn't mull over.
"I was like 80 per cent certain I was going to retire," Harris said. "And then I saw guys getting signed – and I always go through this process to kind of putting out some old highlights and stuff and, and see if I can still have that same mindset to be able to do that again. And I went through that process and I still had some more to give... I'm really proud of my decision and confident in my decision.”
Factoring into that pull towards retirement was the arrival of Harris' second child Axton Jacob Harris, who was born days before last year’s Grey Cup.
"I have a 15-year-old daughter. I had her in 2008. Going through that whole process as a father was a lot different than it is now. I was a lot younger then, but leaving home a few days ago, it was a lot tougher than it ever has been."
"I've got a lot more stuff going on off the field now, a lot of responsibilities and different things going on... I'm here, but I'm not the main guy (you) expect it to take 20-30 touches a game. It's more of a shared backfield now and more of a leadership role."
Though the finality of Harris' career is now becoming more of a reality than it ever has with an expiration date in sight, Harris still is as ambitious now as he was in his rookie season.
Harris was claimed as a territorial exemption by the BC Lions under then-general manager Wally Buono in 2008 while Harris was playing for the Vancouver Island Raiders of the Canadian Junior Football League.
Harris joined the Lions practice squad in 2009 and made his debut with the team a year later.
After rushing for 458 yards and a touchdown in a backup role in the 2010 season, Harris assumed the starting role mid-way through the 2011 season.
Harris finished with 1,112 yards and eight touchdowns, helping the Lions capture the 99th Grey Cup over the Blue Bombers and earning himself the honour of the game's Most Outstanding Canadian for his 65-yard, one-touchdown performance in the 34-23 win.
Harris spent six seasons with the Lions (2010-15), earning CFL All-Star honours in 2012 and 2015 before joining his hometown Blue Bombers as a free agent in 2016.
"It's always trying to get another Grey Cup is always the goal," said Harris on what is still left to check off his career 'to do' list. "It [would] be nice delete?:to nice to get five Grey Cup rings, and so that's definitely a goal for me."
"There's a couple personal goals and personal things that I'd like to be able to get to. For me, the biggest thing is just helping this team get to the next level. Helping the guys in my positional group, helping them get better... The team goal is first, but all the personal goals and stuff is secondary for me."
Though Harris is one of the most decorated Canadians in the league – and the owner of the Canadian rushing record – there's much more to be proud of.
"For me, there's nothing I really regret all that much. And as far as going forward, I'm just proud of the longevity. I'm proud of the fact that I was able to kind of change, not just myself but guys like [Jon] Cornish. [Jerome] Messam, we were we kind of changed the curve of only Americans can play running back. So that's probably the thing I'm most proud of is changing that curve and the narrative."
Week 17 of the Argos' 2023 schedule will see them head west to face the Bombers and bring Harris back to one of the places where it all began. A game that could also have a big impact on playoff seeding. Nonetheless, it's a game Harris has circled.
“It'll be the last time I'm playing in that stadium," said Harris on the trip to IG Field. "I've definitely got a lot of great memories and a lot of great fans and support throughout that stadium and throughout that city. So for me, it's going to be sweet. There's going to be no bitterness there. I'm going to enjoy every moment of that but the biggest thing is going in there and getting a dub [win]."
Harris played five seasons for the Bombers (2016-20, 2021), when he helped them capture back-to-back Grey Cup titles in 2019 and 2021. Harris was a CFL All-Star in three consecutive seasons (2016-18), and was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian in 2017. In 2019, he was again named the League's Most Outstanding Canadian alongside the 107th Grey Cup's MVP.
After the Bombers’ second Grey Cup win in a row in 2021 after the pandemic-cancelled 2020 season, Harris joined the Argonauts as a free agent.
Reflecting on his time playing in his backyard, there's a lot that races through Harris' mind.
"It's definitely a football community," said Harris about his native Winnipeg. "The fans are so supportive. But that's the biggest thing, just be able to play delete?:off play at home, having my daughter come to every game and family come [to] every game. And just after the game, having every one kind of right there with you, enjoying it with you... Our team, the locker room there was amazing. The culture was unreal. It was a blessing to be playing there."
Having announced during the off-season that the upcoming season would be his last, Harris previewed what life would look like after his playing days are done. In February of 2023, it was announced that Harris accepted a five-year contract to be head of football operations of his former junior football team.
"I've taken over football operations for my junior team in Nanaimo," said Harris. "I'm going through the process of recruiting and getting a coaching staff rounded out. We have our spring camp coming up in a couple of weeks. So just getting that ready."
Along with coaching, Harris is diversifying his interests similarly to those of his of former teammate Blue Bomber Adam Bighill, who is an investment advisor with Wellington-Altus Financial.
"I'm getting into the financial planning career," Harris said. "So I'm just kind of getting licensed and trained for that for the next six months here. And then hopefully hit the ground running come January."
There are players, who when they walk off the field for the last time, want to disassociate themselves from the sport and pursue other passions in life. For Harris, football is that passion. And as a result, it only made sense for life after football to be football. And to educate the next generation of great Canadian football players.
"I never thought I'd be interested in coaching until last year. Last year really inspired me to maybe think about this [coaching]. I had a couple (of) opportunities to coach in the CFL from a positional coach standpoint.”
“But I think, ultimately, for me, coaching the grassroots; coaching where my career really took off and started at the junior level. It was really important for me to kind of give back. That league and that team, that community, was really instrumental in my life and getting on track and getting to where I'm at today...I wanted to go back where it started and give back to some young men and help make an impact in their lives as well."