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Harris healthy and ready to lead Riders in wide-open West

Trevor Harris Saskatchewan Roughriders Trevor Harris - The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Trevor Harris didn’t see the playing field much in 2023 after suffering a tibial plateau fracture to his right knee just five games into the campaign, but that didn’t prevent him from being productive.

Harris had surgery immediately after the injury and used his recovery time to break down film with coaches and closely study trends around the league. He hopes that those findings will pay off this season.

“I really did a deep dive into what was good across the league, what was generating explosive plays, just the big-picture stuff,” he said. “Just the finer details stuff like what coordinators like to do with certain quarterbacks. I took that time and took advantage of how I could learn and grow as a football player to help my team moving forward…take an off-season project and do it during the season while I was rehabbing.”

Harris is a student of the game and self-admitted “weirdo who loves practice,” but admitted even he was taken aback with what he learned. He politely declined to go into specifics about his research project.

“There were some surprising things that surfaced as I went across the league,” he said. “Hopefully we can use those things to generate more explosive [plays] and be better this year.”

The 37-year-old says he’s healthy and ready to lead the team after a winter rehab focused on building strength in his repaired knee.

“It was just about making sure I was building the right strength and building bilateral strength,” he said. “Just grinded away. It was tedious and six days a week…but it was really smooth once we got to mid-December.”

Harris said he enters Riders’ training camp in Saskatoon feeling rejuvenated under new head coach in Corey Mace, who has Grey Cup rings as a coach and player in Calgary (2014, 2018) and, more recently, as the defensive coordinator of the 2022 Toronto Argonauts.

The Riders are coming off back-to-back 6-12 seasons and haven’t made the playoffs since 2021, but with a healthy Harris and contributions from newcomers like running back A.J. Ouellette and linebacker Jameer Thurman, they’ll hope to contend in a wide-open West Division.

Mace said he is looking forward to working with Harris, a two-time Grey Cup champion who brings experience and leadership from more than a decade in the league, with stops in Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton and Montreal.

“It’s been outstanding,” Mace said of his relationship with the quarterback. “He’s one of the hardest-working guys in this league. Worst case, he’s a lead-by-example guy, but I know his voice also goes a long way. I’m excited about the conversations we’ve had about leadership and what that looks like for our team.”

Harris raved about Mace’s early commitment not just to the organization but Rider Nation. 

“It’s really been a breath of fresh air, seeing the way he wants to go about things,” Harris. “He’s done some things that I’ll keep between him and I for now that have really shown that he really cares about this city, first and foremost…On a personal level is where I think he separates himself from a lot of other coaches.”

Mace wants his quarterback to be authentic and true to himself in how he leads and delivers the coach’s messaging.

“I never want to push guys to go do something they’re not comfortable with,” Mace said. “Trevor Harris and I have talked about it. He knows my vision and the vision from an organizational standpoint and what we’re looking for. He aligns with it naturally very well. I’m not going to handcuff him on how he gets the message across to the guys, as long as the outcome is the same.”

Harris said he is willing to be that guy who helps uphold a standard for Mace and the entire organization.

“A lot of times, love is tough love,” he said. “It’s holding each other accountable. It’s holding each other to a certain standard…when you really care about each other, you can hold each other accountable.”

Harris appreciates that Mace, who played 40 regular-season games in the league, has experienced many of the same things as his players.

“You can tell that he’s played football, and he understands what it’s like to be in the cleats of us,” Harris said. “More than that, he relates to us really well.”

Harris doesn’t provide headline-worthy statements often, but did admit that this training camp, under a new regime, will feel different.

“I always tell people to temper their expectations going into a year,” Harris said. “But I really feel like this is a situation where people can get excited about the leadership we have and the guy that’s sitting in the head coach’s chair.”