Andrew Harris (33) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers before the 107th Grey Cup game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB, Sunday, November. 24, 2019. (Photo: Johany Jutras/CFL)
There has to be a book deal in all of this for Andrew Harris – the kid from Winnipeg who rose through the junior ranks as an undrafted prospect into one of the greatest players in Canadian Football League history.
That narrative, understandably, took a bit of a back seat on Friday when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced the veteran running back had signed a one-year contract extension to remain with the club in 2021.
Yet, the more closely you look at his numbers, the more astonishing they become.
Consider: He is the CFL’s all-time leader in yards from scrimmage for a Canadian at 14,145, having moved past Ben Cahoon in 2019, and is now the all-time leader for rushing yards by a Canadian, with 9,038. That total ranks Harris eighth all-time in CFL rushing with Joffrey Reynolds (9,213) and Kelvin Anderson (9,340) in his sights.
The story behind what still drives Harris can be found here, but during his Zoom call Friday with the media he also talked about his growing legacy and how a kid from Grant Park/Oak Park high schools who played his junior ball with the Vancouver Island Raiders now has his name among CFL icons.
“There’s a lot of pride that goes into that, coming from my background, my pedigree from the junior route and get to where I’m at,” Harris said. “One, to have those numbers, but also to still be in the league and still contributing at a high level. At first when I came in (to the league) I just wanted to make the special teams and then become a starter.
“To be where I’m at now, it’s definitely surreal. There’s been a lot of great coaches, teammates and people who have contributed and helped me get to where I’m at. I want to thank them.”
Harris has also moved into sixth place on the Bombers’ all-time rushing list with 4,779 yards, behind only Charles Roberts (9,987), Leo Lewis (8,861), Willard Reaves (5,923), Jim Washington (5,736) and Gerry James (5,541) and with 300 receptions he now ranks 10th on the club’s all-time catches list.
“Thinking about those numbers… it’s one of those things that at the end when I’m finally done it will sink in,” he said. “At this point now I’m just focused on keeping on moving on and pushing forward. The rings and championships are more important to me at the moment. When I’m finally done, when I finally hang the cleats up I’ll look back at the things I’ve done and look at the class I’m in with some of the greats who have played this game… all that stuff I’m extremely proud of.
“When you put so much work into something, so much blood, sweat and tears and to look back at the great accomplishments it’s definitely amazing.”
More from Harris and other notes and quotes in this week’s edition of First & 10…
1. Bombers’ football operations staff has been aggressively chipping away at re-signing pending free agents and also getting others to restructure contracts for 2021. There’s been so much activity, frankly, it’s sometimes difficult to keep tabs on everything. Fear not, loyal reader, for we have you covered.
Here’s a look at where things currently stand (*indicates Canadian):
Under contract: Zach Collaros, Dru Brown, Dalton Sneed
Signed to contract extension: Sean McGuire
Pending free agents: none
Under contract: Johnny Augustine*, Brady Oliveira*, Joshua Caldwell, James Williams
Signed contract extension: Andrew Harris*, Mike Miller*
Pending free agents: John Rush*
Under contract: Darvin Adams, Drew Wolitarsky*, Charles Nelson, Deontez Alexander, Montay Crockett, Mekale McKay, Kayaune Ross, Travis Rudolph, Alonzo Russell, ArDarius Stewart, Macho Bockru*, Davon Grayson
Signed contract extension: Nic Demski*, Rasheed Bailey
Pending free agents: Kenny Lawler, Lucky Whitehead, Janarion Grant, Daniel Petermann*, Julian Feoli-Gudino*
Under contract: Michael Couture*, Drew Desjarlais*, Tui Eli*, Jarell Broxton, Shane Carpenter, Chris Kolankowski*, Kevin Lawrence, Sepesitiano Pupungatoa, Nolan Ulizio
Signed contract extension: Stanley Bryant, Jermarcus Hardrick, Geoff Gray*
Pending free agents: Patrick Neufeld*, Cody Speller*
Under contract: Willie Jefferson, Connor Griffiths*, Justin Alexandre, Meffy Koloamatangi, Alex McCalister, Royce LaFrance, Vontarrius Dora
Signed contract extension: Jake Thomas*, Jackson Jeffcoat, Thiadric Hansen (Global),
Pending free agents: Steven Richardson
Under contract: Adam Bighill, Micah Awe, Dylan Donahue, Mason Moe, Otha Peters, Jr.,
Signed contract extension: Kyrie Wilson, Shayne Gauthier*, Tobi Antigha
Pending free agents: Jesse Briggs*, Brandon Calver*, Thomas Miles*,
Under contract: Mike Jones, Nick Hallett*, Jhavonte Dean, Terrence Alexander, DeAundre Alford, Joshua Allen, Malik Boynton, Clifton Duck, Doran Grant, Jamalcolm Liggins, Dexter McDougle, Josh Miller, Damian Swann, Raekwon Williams, Demetrious Cox,
Signed contract extension: Brandon Alexander, Nick Taylor, Mercy Maston, Josh Johnson
Pending free agent: Kerfalla Exumé*, Chris Lyles
Under contract: K Marc Liegghio*, K Matt Riley*
Signed contract extension: none
Pending free agent: K Justin Medlock, LS Chad Rempel*, LS Maxime Latour*
2. The slow vaccine rollout and this ongoing fight with the pandemic has many speculating that the CFL won’t start in June, but more likely August or September.
I always trend to the glass-is-half-full side on these things, but it is a topic that came up in Friday’s session with Harris.
“The whole world is just taking it day by day and going with the flow here,” he said. “As a province we’ve come a long way. As a country there’s been ups and downs. We’re starting to get a hold on this and with the vaccine coming out and more knowledge and more resources out there we’re going to be in a better situation come spring, come summer.
“I think they’ll be some sort of football… I don’t know if it’s going to be exactly how it was in 2019, but I’m optimistic there will be football this year and that’s why I’m so excited to be part of this team again and get back at it.”
3. Asked if he was frustrated there wasn’t more clarity from the CFL as to what a Plan B might look like if not everyone is vaccinated by the summer, Harris added this: “You wish you could have more clarity, but everyone in every sector, every field is still wondering. You just have to plan for right now and hope for the best for the future.
“I’m assuming (the league) doesn’t want to say too many things so they don’t put their foot in their mouths and kind of keep their cards close to their chests. That’s a smart move to see how everything adapts and changes. We’ll all get a clearer picture as the weeks and months go on here and I’m sure we’ll get more information as it happens.”
4. One more from Harris… his contract is a one-year extension and he was asked if that was a move to wait and see what might unfold after this season or if multi-year contracts are no longer part of the process.
“I would have signed a -five year (contract), to be honest with you,” said Harris with a chuckle. “I don’t know if you could see a 40-year old running back, or a 39-year old. We’ll see. For me, I’m taking it year by year. I’ve always been that way. After you get into your 30s you’re always one hit from this being over, so you’ve got to take it play-by-play, day-by-day, year-by-year. So, for me, there’s nothing different there.”
5. Spoke to Willie Jefferson earlier this week about his contract restructuring, but our conversation started with a discussion about the weather. It snowed in Austin, Texas last weekend – where the Jeffersons are based in the offseason – and the Bombers’ defensive end spent the day of the first snowfall outside
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“It was crazy,” said Jefferson. “I woke up and we were just relaxing a bit… at first it was just kinda rainy. When I opened the blinds and saw it was snowy, I was like, ‘OK.’ It was coming down just a little bit at first, around 9:30. Then by 11 o’clock it was coming down. It looked like a day in Winnipeg.
“Me being in Winnipeg, I could tell it was going to be the good packing snow because it came down so fast and there was so much in such a little time. Then we went outside and we really enjoyed it, just like we were in Canada.
“I felt like I had an advantage to my neighbours when it came to making a snowman. They didn’t know how to put it together. They saw me doing the pack technique and then rolling the snow around my yard to pick it up… after a while everybody on the block had a good snowman.”
6. Jefferson, like so many who have signed or had their contracts restructured, is ecstatic at how many members from the 2019 Bombers are coming back for another run.
In fact, he said that was the driving force in his reworking his contract.
“For sure it is,” he said. “That’s the mindset that’s around our team right now because we are the team that won before the pandemic. The way things were looking last year it looked like we had a good team and a good chance to repeat.
“I’m so happy we’re getting so many guys back. So far, I’m happy.”
7. Jefferson was quite open about how much he was missing all aspects of the game, from the practices to film sessions to, of course, game day.
But it’s the other stuff – the social aspect – that he is really craving right now.
“After sitting out it makes your appreciate all the little things,” he said. “The meetings, breakfast with your teammates, training camp where you can bond with your teammates, practice… there’s a camaraderie you get with people on the other side of the ball. I play defence and I miss going against Yoshi (Jermarcus) Hardrick and Stan (Bryant) and Mike (Couture), seeing Zach (Collaros) and Sean (McGuire), seeing Andrew (Harris), messing with (Nic) Demski, talking to Darvin (Adams)… I miss all those guys. At the same time I miss seeing Bigs (Adam Bighill), I miss BA (Brandon Alexander) – I can’t say I miss Jackson (Jeffcoat) because I see him pretty much every other weekend – but I miss all those guys. I miss my guy Nick Hallett. I miss all those dudes. I see them on social media and talk to them, but it’s not the same because we’re not in the locker room or on the field competing against each other or just having a good time. I miss that. I really miss it.”
We’re not sure if Willie had the Bombers’ roster page open on bluebombers.com, or was flipping through the media guide, but he then started rattling off names of some of the club’s equipment and training staff.
“I miss (Jared) Cronk. I miss (Brad) Fotty. I miss Al (Couture), Chris (Mikolajek), Carly (Nordin)… I miss everybody, man, I really do. I miss them all.”
8. Had a great chat with Rasheed Bailey earlier this week and a couple of items that didn’t make our story on him signing a contract extension..
First, we talked about his key block on the Andrew Harris TD that opened the scoring in the Grey Cup game. That portion of the play – when Bailey helps open a giant crease for Harris with a block on Ticat defensive end Julian Howsare – came up repeatedly in conversations with players during our ’10 Plays that Made a Champion’ series last fall.
If you watch the clip here, you can see the block made by Bailey (#88).
“It’s not always about you. That was one of my greatest lessons of that (2019) season,” said Bailey. “As much as I wanted it to be, as much as I wanted the limelight and the love, it was about the team. That can mean blocking, that can mean doing the little things or even being a cheerleader on the sidelines for 8-10 games. Did it hurt and did it suck sometimes? Yes, it did. But I understand now about the greater good. I’ll do the smaller things. That block in the Grey Cup was almost better than the catch than should have been.
“If you go back and look at the film study and all the things that went into that… we had talked about #95 (Howsare) being a key factor in the game. We talked about me staying tight to the tackle and then getting the job done. That play help set the tone for the game. Whether people remember that block or not, in my heart that was THE play and I’ll never forget it. If you watch that play on film you see me and how happy I was.”
9. The Bombers still have a few receiver pieces unsigned (see above), but Bailey is hoping to build on his end of 2019.
“You always want to make yourself valuable,” he said. “I’ve put a lot of work in this offseason in the weight room. I’d like to make myself more valuable, whether it’s catching the ball, whether it’s blocking, whether it’s playing the decoy. I’m excited for this year. It’s going to be all of us, there’s going to be a lot of moving pieces.
“Coach Buck (Pierce) is great at what he does, he’s going to get us all on the same page and I’m excited to see how it all plays out.”
He’s also itching to get into the end zone – especially after his Grey Cup TD was overturned by video replay.
“I haven’t scored a touchdown in a very long time,” he said. “For me in college, I scored a lot my senior year. I want that feeling again. I want all the hard work to pay off for a moment like that. I really, really want that. That makes me emotional. I don’t say this in a bragging way, but I have worked sooo hard. When it comes to putting it in, I put it in. Now I want that reward.”
10. And finally, ome more from Jefferson, because he was on a roll when we chatted with him…
He suggested that not only has his love for the CFL grown during the absence, but he hopes it positively impacts the numbers at the turnstiles when we get back to ‘normal’ – that those who miss being out on a summer night might opt to experience a game for the first time, or to do it more than once.
“With this league being shut down it makes me appreciate it even more.” he said. “I think of all the season ticket holders and long-time fans. But I also think of those fans that come to games sparingly. Now they couldn’t come to games at all. They couldn’t even watch the games on TV or cheer for us that way. Now we know it’s coming back in 2021. Now I hope they’re saying, ‘I’m for sure coming to a game this year. Maybe not just one, but two.’
“Maybe now they look at all the guys we’ve got coming back and they’re saying, ‘I’m going now. I’m going to get something from the store because it’s 2021 and Bombers football is back, CFL football is back.’”