Andrew Harris is preparing to soar among the clouds at breakneck speed, but still striving to keep his ego on the ground.
The B.C. Lions running back is slated to ride along in a CF-18 jet during an air show next weekend in Abbotsford, B.C. It isn’t difficult to get him talking about the subject.
“I’m a huge adrenaline junkie,” said Harris after practice Thursday. “So I’m excited about that. I don’t know how fast those things go exactly, or exactly how fast the guys go when I’m in it. But it’s definitely going to be a crazy experience. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, for sure.”
However, his selection as the CFL’s Canadian player of the month for July — the first in his career — doesn’t generate as much excitement. The 25-year-old Winnipeg native received the honour after catching two passes for touchdowns in a convincing 34-8 victory in Calgary.
“It’s cool, it’s an honour, but it’s just one month of football,” said Harris. “Obviously, those things are good to have in competition, but I’m the type of guy that just wants to keep on doing those things. We’ve still got four months of football left. It’s about getting and, obviously, racking up these wins.”
As the Lions (3-2) prepare to face the Toronto Argonauts (3-2) in the Ontario capital on Monday, Harris keeps rolling along on an unlikely rags-to-riches story. The former Vancouver Island Raiders standout rose through the Canadian junior ranks instead of university football to become a bona fide star at a tailback position usually reserved for imports. The player of the month honour came a day after he received the CFL player of the week award for the second time this season.
He ran for 55 yards against the Stampeders and gained an additional 37 on five receptions. One of his touchdowns came on a 19-yard pass along the sidelines in a play that one would usually expect a wide receiver to make.
Harris is proving to be a dual threat on the ground and in the air. His first CFL player of the week award came in the second week of the season as he romped for 147 rushing yards on 13 carries. He produced a combined 185 yards in another game, albeit a loss, to Edmonton.
He currently leads the league in combined yardage from scrimmage with 628. He is also ranked fourth in the league among running backs with 351 yards on 47 carries, and his average of 7.5 yards per carry tops the CFL.
True to form, he also takes his receiving success in stride, but admits the work he has put in on improving his timing and release off the ball, among other factors, is paying off.
“I don’t think I’ve had a drop all year,” he said. “So that’s one thing I’m a little proud of.”
With 277 receiving yards, he appears well on his way to surpassing the 395 he accumulated in 2011. But he also shrugs off his receiving success.
“That’s the CFL,” said Harris. “If I’m getting nine or 10 carries (per game), that’s pretty average, for a run game game anyways. That’s what I’ll gain in the run game, and you’ve gotta make up for it in the pass. There are so many good receivers that, sometimes, guys are getting doubled and bracketed, so it opens you up.”
Harris was used exclusively on special teams in his 2010 rookie season and began last season as a backup. He was tried out as a returner, a receiver and a defensive back before emerging as a starter and earning top Canadian honours in B.C.’s Grey Cup victory over Winnipeg last season.
But Harris, a longshot to even make the CFL, admitted to having a “whole different mindset” after coming into 2012 as a starter.
“It’s a whole different aspect of how to perceive the whole season,” he said in early July.
And there is no doubting the positive perception that coaches and teammates have of Harris.
Centre Angus Reid said Harris keeps on improving. The 12-year veteran usually avoids grandiose predictions, but did not hold back on discussing Harris.
“Jump on Andrew’s bandwagon early, because you’re seeing the beginnings of one of the true greats in the league,” said Reid.
According to quarterback Travis Lulay, Harris has thrived on being critical of himself and focusing on how he can improve each week.
“He continues to challenge himself,” said Lulay. “You can tell. He plays with a great sense of urgency. Every touch early in the football game, he wants to take advantage of. He doesn’t go down easy. He makes those guys earn tackles because he has great balance. If you just shoulder him or you don’t keep him wrapped up, he’s going to find a way to slip out of it.”
Lulay added that, as a receiver, Harris gets open downfield by winning matchups with linebackers and has proven to be a useful outlet when the QB gets flushed out of the pocket.
Lulay said opposing defences now target Harris, but he still has a “ton of upside.” After Harris’ success last season, there was considerable speculation that other clubs would seek to use more Canadians at tailback.
Although it wasn’t apparent in this year’s draft, Lulay still believes that Harris can be a trailblazer for future Canadian tailbacks in the league.
“It speaks to the level of confidence that we have in him as an organization,” said Lulay, explaining that Harris is succeeding despite the perennial wealth of tailback talent available from the United States. “It takes a special guy to do it.”