‘A dream come true’: new QB Trevor Harris ‘always wanted’ to play for Riders

Photo: Andrew Parry/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

When quarterback Trevor Harris held up his new Saskatchewan Roughriders No. 7 jersey for the first time on Wednesday, it finally brought to fruition a dream he’s held since his first season starting in the CFL.

“Just to be fully transparent, I told my wife in 2015 when I was playing for Toronto, I said, ‘I’d love to be the quarterback for the Riders someday,'” Harris told the Regina media at his introductory press conference.

“So this is a dream come true and something that I’ve always wanted and you long for when you come into the league. You invite the high expectations, the pressure and those sorts of things, so I couldn’t be more delighted to be here and I’ll never take for granted being able to be the quarterback of this franchise.”

Despite his long-held desire to play for the green and white, the 36-year-old signal-caller only recently began considering the possibility of making it a reality. After throwing for 4,157 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 15 starts for the Montreal Alouettes a year ago and leading the team to their first playoff victory in eight years, a return to Quebec seemed like an inevitability — especially after they hired a familiar face in Jason Maas as head coach.

But, just as happened following the 2018 season with Ottawa and mid-way through his 2021 campaign in Edmonton, factors outside the quarterback’s control prompted a move he didn’t expect. With Alouettes’ general manager Danny Maciocia instructed by a retreating ownership group not to spend any more cash, Montreal could offer no financial security when the CFL’s negotiating window opened.

By the time the league seized control of the franchise on Tuesday — just hours before free agency began — Harris had already made the decision to move on. The necessity of recruiting new teammates to his destination of choice meant waiting for the Alouettes to figure out their issues was never a viable option.

“It’s tough to speak on past things obviously because, ultimately, they don’t matter but never was I looking to leave,” Harris insisted. “Early on, never did I expect to leave but I’ve learned one thing in pro sports is you never assume anything. And as this situation kind of unfolded and they got to the point where it was, I promised myself that I would listen to other teams and see what was going on, to see what else is out there.”

Once the phone lines opened on Sunday, February 5, it became clear that quarterbacking the Riders could be more than just a fantasy. As the franchise looked to move on from incumbent Cody Fajardo, Harris strongly connected to the staff’s new vision.

“I talked to [general manager Jeremy O’Day] on the opening day of the negotiation window and we kind of just talked through what his plans were, what his vision was,” he explained.

“Just listening to his demeanour and the way that he saw things, and then talking to Coach Craig [Dickenson] as well and listening to the way that he likes to build his culture, the way that he treats the players and how he sees this locker room coming together and how you win football games, I thought that aligned with a lot of my values.”

As a small-town kid grounded by his faith, Harris connected with the Riders’ cultural mentality. He had been drawn to that dynamic in the past, almost joining the team after the Redblacks let him walk in free agency five years ago.

“Honestly, to be fully transparent almost came here in 2019 and it just didn’t end up working out for whatever reason,” Harris revealed.

This time he found himself on the same page as the organization’s leadership, including team president Craig Reynolds. He was also one of just a few players in the league who has a prior relationship with first-time offensive coordinator Kelly Jeffrey, who was supposed to be his quarterbacks coach with the Elks for the cancelled 2020 season.

While those personal connections were paramount, the veteran passer could not deny that the aura of Rider Nation that first called to him in 2015 remained influential in accepting the offer from Saskatchewan.

“It was a really surface-level thing but you just feel how important football is here and as an athlete, you want to be a part of situations where football is important and things mean a lot to people. You want to be able to bring joy to people and be able to impact people,” Harris noted, acknowledging that while the Riders’ fanbase had rarely been kind to him, it always left a lasting impression.

“I remember very vividly in 2018, I played for Ottawa, they shut the lights off before they played Bring ‘Em Out and everybody’s lights were off. I don’t know if they put their phone lights on or if they had green glow sticks or something but I get the chills thinking about it.”

“I was like, man, this is awesome. This is the heartland of Canada and a place that would be really, really cool to have that environment, and it got me fired up to play that night.”

That type of hype will be his weekly reality over the next two seasons, though returning it to 2018 levels could take some time. The Riders are still doing damage control after a disastrous 2022 season that saw them miss the playoffs in the same year that they were scheduled to host the Grey Cup in new Mosaic Stadium.

As a result, O’Day and Dickenson enter next season in the last year of their contracts — organizational uncertainty that scared away several coaching candidates and potential quarterbacks like Bo Levi Mitchell. Fleeing a much more severe form of uncertainty in Montreal, Harris was unfazed by the contract status of his new bosses.

“If you trust the process instead of thinking about the end goal, I feel like those things will take care of themselves. And I believe in those guys,” he stressed.

“I believe in Coach Craig, I believe in Jeremy, I believe in Craig Reynolds and I think that my vision is that we’re here for a long time together and we can create a lot of great memories here in the prairies and get this fanbase rejuvenated.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.