‘Strive for five’: desire for fifth Grey Cup brings Andrew Harris back for final CFL season

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Toronto Argonauts’ running back Andrew Harris has one main goal for the final year of his playing career and it’s to add another Grey Cup ring to his heavily-bejewelled fingers.

“My goal this year is ‘strive for five’ and we’re gonna put our best foot forward. I’m just here to help impact this team in any way possible in any shape or form how it plays out. You’ve gotta be ready to adapt and improvise and overcome all the different situations that are gonna get thrown your way but I’m really just looking forward to being in that locker room,” said Harris.

“To be able to be at this juncture of my career and have a team still want to bring you on and think that you have value to me is really inspiring. For everything I’ve done, to be a 36-year-old running back, it’s pretty special that I can still bring something to the team and still bring something to the table. Those are the factors that really contributed to me wanting to come back.”

The five-foot-ten, 216-pound ball-carrier won his first Grey Cup as a member of the B.C. Lions in 2011 and has won three in a row as a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts. Only 30 players have won five or more Grey Cups, almost all of whom did so as part of Edmonton’s five-year championship run from 1978 to 1982. The two most recent players to accomplish the feat are Leo Blanchard and Brian Kelly who did so in 1987.

Harris is also in a position to move up the record books on an individual basis in 2023. He was hoping to surpass Charles Roberts for fifth all-time on the CFL’s rushing list this past season but fell short as he missed 10 games due to a pectoral injury. He currently trails Roberts by only 134 rushing yards, putting him in position to move up the rankings early this upcoming season.

The Winnipeg native is also within striking distance of Johnny Bright for fourth all-time in rushing yards and Geroy Simon for third all-time in yards from scrimmage. Though he’s aware of the opportunity to move further up the league’s historical rankings, Harris said that’s “way down the list” of his reasons for playing one last CFL season.

The veteran ball-carrier won’t be alone in the backfield this year as Toronto also re-signed A.J. Ouellette, who scored three touchdowns during the club’s successful postseason run in 2022. The punishing ball-carrier got a significant raise on his new deal and will earn approximately $110,000 in 2023, per source, which illustrates the club’s intention of making him a more prominent figure in the offence.

Harris came into training camp last year as the club’s undisputed starter but is prepared to play a supporting role alongside Ouellette in 2023, acknowledging that he’s no longer capable of being the focal point of an offence over the course of a full season.

“Those 25-touch games, when I was 28 years old, were a lot easier,” he said. “I’ll be 36 this year and … I’ve gotta make sure that my body’s in good enough condition to get through that if we need to do that, but it’s not something that’s sustainable for myself at this age. And it takes a lot to admit that, too, because last year there was times when I just couldn’t recover the way I could (previously). But I still feel I have something to give and that’s going to look a lot different week to week.”

The CFL recently moved to an unbalanced schedule, which means teams no longer play in each of the league’s other markets over the course of the regular season. The Argos didn’t travel to Winnipeg this past year, robbing Harris of an opportunity to return to his hometown in enemy colours. The two clubs met only once during the regular season, a 23-22 victory for the Blue Bombers on a random Monday evening in July.

The Argos are scheduled to visit IG Field on Friday, Sept. 29, providing Harris with one final opportunity to play in the Manitoba capital. The rivalry between the two teams has been tepid for decades, though Toronto’s upset victory over Winnipeg in last year’s Grey Cup should help raise the stakes of the affair. It will be the only regular season meeting between the two teams in 2023.

“Hopefully that’s a game that will have some importance for us — all games are important, but that’s going to be one that’s going to be an exciting one for sure. I’m really looking forward to coming to IG but I’m also looking forward to going to every stadium,” said Harris. “Playing in front of those fans is going to be a lot of fun. That date’ll be circled once we get the season going for sure.”

Harris recently signed a five-year contract to become the head of football operations for the Vancouver Island Raiders of the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL). He plans to appoint an interim head coach for the 2023 season before taking over the role for himself once his playing career is over. He considers it a chance to give back to the community that gave him so much before making the jump to the CFL.

The veteran running back has made it clear that he plans for this to be his final season in the CFL, though he was unwilling to guarantee that when speaking to the media. A return beyond this season sounds unlikely but Harris didn’t entirely rule out playing again in 2024 at the age of 37.

“Maybe for some crazy reason I might go, ‘Oh, let’s do one more.’ But I think I’m ready to move on with life and get into another field and do some different things,” said Harris. “I need to tell myself things sometimes: ‘I gotta do this’ and then I stick with it, so that was kinda my way of being like, ‘This is the last one.’ I just want to enjoy this one to the fullest but crazier things have happened and (returning) could be a possibility, but I highly doubt it.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.