Veteran CFL running back Andrew Harris plans to savour final training camp
GUELPH, Ont. — Andrew Harris knows all too well just how monotonous, repetitive and tedious CFL training camps can be.
Harris, entering his 13th CFL season, reported to the start of the Toronto Argonauts' camp Sunday at Guelph University. But this one's much different because it's Harris's last as an active player.
"It's about enjoying the process and enjoying the journey," said the 36-year-old Winnipeg native. "Everything (in camp) will be for the last time, everything will be the last go at it.
"Some of the guys and the coaches have tried to get me a little emotional about that. But I'm going to save the emotions until the end and, like I said, just enjoy the process."
Harris pondered retirement this off-season after helping Toronto edge Winnipeg 24-23 in the 2022 Grey Cup game. But he opted to return and split rushing duties with American A.J. Ouellette to not only help the Argos defend their championship but chase a fourth consecutive title (2019 and '21 with Winnipeg) and fifth overall.
Harris's first Grey Cup title came in 2011 with the B.C. Lions.
"After last season I was 80 per cent sure I was going to retire but I'm really happy I didn't," Harris said. "My body feels great but the biggest thing is being in the locker-room with these guys and the camaraderie we have.
"Once we get into the season, it's going to get wound up and be about competing and winning games. Right now I'm enjoying the process and I'm really happy with my decision."
Harris is the top-rushing Canadian in CFL history with 10,151 yards on 1,903 carries (5.3-yard average) with 51 TDs. He also has 599 all-time catches for 5,403 yards and 32 touchdowns in 184 career regular-season games.
Harris is just 134 yards behind Charles Roberts (10,285 yards) for fifth in all-time CFL rushing and needs 759 yards to surpass fourth-ranked Johnny Bright (10,909 yards).
The five-foot-10, 216-pound Harris ran for 490 yards on 114 carries (4.3-yard average) while adding 23 catches for 180 yards in eight regular-season games last season. He suffered a torn pectoral muscle that was to sideline him for the rest of the year but Harris returned for Toronto's 34-27 East Division final win over the Montreal Alouettes, rushing for 42 yards and a TD on nine carries.
Harris had 55 rushing yards on 10 carries in the Grey Cup game. Ouellette contributed 24 yards on six carries but scored two TDs, including the eventual game-winning five-yard scamper.
Harris showed Sunday he still has gas left in the tank, ripping off a number of solid runs.
"Those show he's still got that burst to get us to the next level," Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie said. "I'm glad he made the decision to come back and hopefully it ends the way he wants it to.
"Guys just respect what he's done as far as his legacy, career and the number of Grey Cups he has won. Outside of that, it's his locker-room presence and he can hold guys accountable because he's doing all of the work. Guys gravitate toward him and look up to him."
Toronto's offence will feature a different look in 2023 with Chad Kelly under centre in place of veteran McLeod Bethel-Thompson (USFL). Kelly served as the backup last season but played a huge role in rallying the Argos to their Grey Cup victory.
Kelly, the nephew of former Buffalo Bills star quarterback Jim Kelly, replaced Bethel-Thompson (thumb) in the fourth quarter and completed four-of-six passes for 43 yards. But it was his crucial 20-yard run on second-and-15 that set up Ouellette’s five-yard TD run, which put Toronto ahead 24-23.
Dinwiddie, who's also Toronto's offensive coordinator, has said he plans to implement Kelly's mobility into the Argos' game plan.
"It (mobile quarterback) definitely opens up lanes and holes in the running game for the tailbacks," Harris said.
Harris said he's already moved on from '22, adding an element of defending a championship is not resting upon past laurels.
"You've got to flush whatever you did last year and move forward," he said. "No one is really talking about last year, which is great.
"We have a new team, new focus but the same goal. The biggest thing is building on your efforts of the last season and understanding everyone is going to bring their best game at you because you're the defending champion. It's about getting out here and working with these guys, getting that chemistry back and coming together as a team again."
NOTES — Defensive tackle Shawn Oakman (shoulder) didn't practise Sunday. Dinwiddie said the Argos are just being cautious and he expects Oakman practising sometime during the second week of camp … Toronto dealt Canadian offensive lineman Theren Churchill, its '20 first-round pick, to Edmonton for a conditional '24 sixth-round pick that could become a fifth-round selection. The six-foot-six, 295-pound native of Settler, Alta., played 21 games over two seasons with Toronto. "Churchill has a young family and a baby coming and wanted to be closer to home," Dinwiddie said. "We didn't know exactly how he was going to fit in here with our roster, we feel good about our O-line depth. This was a chance for him to get closer to home and us to get a pick." … Veteran receiver Dontrelle Inman, back with Toronto for the first time since its '12 Grey Cup win, didn't miss a beat Sunday with a number of solid catches.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press