March 8, 2017

Harris: REDBLACKS will have new personality in 2017

Photo | Johany Jutras

Jim Morris | CFL.ca

It had been a short night for Trevor Harris, resulting in him being late for an interview.

An apologetic Harris explained his infant son hadn’t slept well the previous night. That caused the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ quarterback to be late returning from his morning workout.

Harris said being a father for the first time has been an amazing experience that has helped him focus as a football player.

“I was thinking about it a couple of days ago,” he said. “My drive for football hasn’t changed at all, just added a priority.

“My dad told me one time, when you have kids you don’t have to make room in your heart, your heart grows. It’s kind of crazy. I thought maybe football would mean less to me. It doesn’t. My heart has grown to make room for this guy.”

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

For the first time in his career, Trevor Harris will be the undisputed starter in 2017 (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

The retirement of Henry Burris means Harris comes to training camp as the No. 1 quarterback. As a Toronto Argonaut, Harris demonstrated he has the tools to be a starter. Knowing the job is his for the taking won’t change his off-season preparation.

“The plan all along was I was going to be the guy in 2017,” said Harris. “It’s one of those things I was going to be fired up about.

“I want to be able to pounce on my opportunity. I don’t treat anything different. I treat practice as I would the Grey Cup.”

There are advantages to being a backup quarterback. If the starter is hurt, or having a bad game, fans are generally satisfied if the No. 2 steps in and doesn’t mess up things too badly.

As an Argonaut in 2015, Harris was a pleasant surprise, throwing for more than 4,300 yards and 33 touchdowns when replacing the injured Ricky Ray.

Harris knows he will be the focus of attention this year as he takes over the reigns of the defending Grey Cup Champions. Ottawa also will host the 2017 Grey Cup.

“It’s always a championship or bust for me,” he said. “If we don’t win a Grey Cup, I don’t look at it as a fully successful season.”

“Once you get those challenges, you hit adversity, you start to really find out what your team is about.”

REDBLACKS QB Trevor Harris

Canadian Press

Trevor Harris throws a pass during a 2016 game vs. the BC Lions (The Canadian Press)

He shrugs off talk of being burdened by extra pressure. In Harris’ mind, pressure is taking a $20 bet to make a putt when you only have $10 in your pocket.

“I feel like we have the money in our pockets to deliver what we want to go get,” he said. “We just have to go out and execute and make sure we are getting the best we can out of everybody.

“We need to get everybody going in the same direction and make sure I’m being the best I can possibly be.”

Harris is taking over on offence with a different look than last year’s team. The REDBLACKS led the East in 2016 with an 8-9-1 record then upset Calgary 39-33 in overtime to win Ottawa’s first Grey Cup in 40 years.

Wide receivers Ernest Jackson and Chris Williams, who between them had 2,471 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns, both left in free agency. Jackson signed in Montreal and Williams in B.C.

“It leaves a massive void,” said Harris. “Those shoes are some big ones to fill.

“It will be exciting to see how guys fill those shoes and how the team takes on the different personalities and talents.”

To fill the vacancies, the REDBLACKS signed a pair of Toronto receivers in Kenny Shaw and Diontae Spencer.

Spencer had a career-high 706 receiving yards on 71 catches and three touchdowns in 12 games last year. He also returned 33 punts for 341 yards. Shaw made 77 catches for 1,004 yards and five touchdowns.

Harris likes both signings. He was a teammate with Spencer in Toronto and has worked out with Shaw in the off-season.

“We have brought in some good guys,” he said. “I have always respected Kenny Shaw as a route runner. It will be fun to see how he can add another dimension.”

Not having Burris, Williams and Jackson will change the complexion of the REDBLACKS.

“Those are some big personalities,” said Harris. “Those are some guys that really influenced the team, pumped some confidence into the team with veteran leadership.

“At the same time, we are going to take on a different personality as a team. That’s exciting. That’s what’s so fun about pro football, the challenges are new every day. Once you get those challenges, you hit adversity, you start to really find out what your team is about. Every team in the league is going to hit adversity as some point. It’s really fun to see the character you have on the team.”

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

A Grey Cup Championship marked the end of one era and the start of a new one for the REDBLACKS (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Harris also accepts the increased leadership duties that will fall on him. As a backup, he felt limited in what he could say.

“Sometimes there should be only one true leadership voice,” he said. “When you are a backup quarterback it’s kind of hard to get up in front of the team and scream and yell when you’re not playing.”

Harris had a roller-coast season in 2016. He was injured in Week 5 and spent the rest of the year dealing with knee, ankle and back problems.

“That was something that kind of weighed on me through the year,” he said. “It was difficult.”

Harris took over the starting quarterback duties in Week 10 but went 2-4 over the next six games before being replaced by Burris. He finished the year competing 242 of 329 passes for 3,301 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions.

He’s used the off-season to heal his body and get himself mentally prepared for the new year.

“It’s kind of nice to let my body get back to natural,” he said.

“There are things you can get better at. You can lead guys and get more out of your guys in their development and help your guys in that way.”