Andrew Harris hoping to prove doubters wrong at age 34 after ‘agonizing’ wait

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Some say age is just a number, but for Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ running back Andrew Harris it’s a primary motivating factor in what he hopes to accomplish during the 2021 CFL season.

“Everyone puts that stigma on the old man,” said Harris. “I still feel like I can contribute and make plays. The accolades and all these things are not really on my mind, it’s more-so about winning games and Grey Cups. The biggest thing that I miss is being around the locker room and being around the guys.”

Harris has led the CFL in rushing yards for three consecutive seasons, winning Most Outstanding Canadian in 2017 and Grey Cup MVP in 2019. He currently sits eighth all-time with 9,038 career rushing yards, which is first among Canadian players.

“As far as motivation, it’s all the exterior stuff — the self-doubt, the doubt that everyone has in me because of my age. All those little things are just added bonuses to me, but at the end of the day the thing that motivates me the most is my teammates and getting out there and playing for them and honouring them,” said the twelve-year veteran.

Harris was injured early in training camp and missed seven weeks, including Winnipeg’s first three games of the season. He admits he may have been overeager with his rehabilitation from a calf injury that plagued him for almost two months.

“I was definitely trying to push as much as I could to get out there and the training staff and the coaching staff thought it was best for me to sit back,” said Harris.

“Honestly, it was the smartest decision. We gotta trust the people in this building and they do a great job not just with myself by with the whole team in getting us ready and making sure that we’re putting our best foot forward when we get on the field.”

Harris indicated that the team wanted to hold him out until he was ready to get the most out of every game, as opposed to playing one week before potentially needing to be held out the next.

“As a competitor, you want to push it and get out there as soon as possible. The wait was agonizing, but it was definitely well-worth it,” said Harris. “I respect the coaching staff and the training staff’s decisions. Ultimately, the process we went through has allowed me to be on the field tomorrow.”

The Winnipeg native acknowledged that he is entering the season with a sense of self-doubt, though that been the case throughout his professional career. Coming to the CFL through the Canadian Junior Football League — he never played at the university level — Harris was a long-shot to even make the final roster early in his career with the B.C. Lions.

“I had doubt when I was 24 and when I was 25. Coming back into the season I had doubt about it. ‘Can I do this? Am I fast enough? Am I strong enough? Do I still have the same vision?’ It’s no different now. I have a couple more grey hairs on my chin, but I have a lot more wisdom and I’ve see a lot more defences,” said Harris.

“I’ve always had that doubt, even when I was in the prime of physical shape or whatever everyone else thinks that is. I’ve always had that self-doubt coming into any off-season and any beginning of a season. That’s part of the process for me is just proving myself wrong and everyone else, too.”

Having a veteran presence in the backfield is something that head coach Mike O’Shea is looking forward to.

“You’re never going to replace that kind of experience,” said O’Shea. “He’s seen all the pictures. He’s seen what it looks like. He knows what winning looks like. He certainly brings a level of excitement and a level of confidence to the group for sure — to the whole team, not just the offensive huddle.”

O’Shea also indicated that Harris’ return from injury will not be a factor in his role on Sunday. The team feels he’s healthy enough to take every snap, though the flow of the game will dictate whether or not backups Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine see any reps out of the backfield.

Harris will turn 35 in April 2022, but he’s not thinking about next year, next month or even next week. He’s taking things one day at a time and seeing how his aging body responds to playing one of the most punishing positions in a violent sport.

“I’m taking it day-by-day. If I feel after this game that I can’t do this anymore then I’ll shut it down, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m just going to take it day-by-day, week-by-week and assess as I go,” said Harris.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.