Henry Burris could be seen shaking hands and signing autographs for eager fans long after his teammates had left the field.
The Ottawa RedBlacks quarterback flashed his signature grin for every single fan and showed no sign of wanting to rush off on Sunday. It was clear he was just enjoying the moment.
When the 38-year-old, who turns 39 on Wednesday, signed with the RedBlacks back in February he said he was committed to being an active member of the community and so far he’s living up to his word.
“I looked forward to coming here and doing what it takes,” said Burris. “I want to be a spokesperson with the rest of the guys to get people excited because I’m excited to be here in Ottawa and I look forward to sharing that with everybody.”
Sunday was the first day of training camp for the RedBlacks and Burris, along with a number of his teammates, admitted it felt pretty special to be part of something new.
“This is special, no doubt about it,” said Burris. “Seeing the fans watching practice and kids lined up it just shows you how ecstatic fans are to have football back in this city.”
It’s been nine years since CFL football was last played in Ottawa and the RedBlacks are looking to make an instant impact, largely due to Burris’ presence.
It’s hard not to get caught up in Burris’ energy. When he talks about his new team it’s with excitement and enthusiasm and not the guarded optimism one might expect from someone about to lead an expansion franchise.
“We’ve got some good talent here,” said Burris. “I think we’re going to be competitive and we’ll be fun to watch.”
Landing Burris gave the RedBlacks instant credibility.
After 15 seasons and 226 games in the CFL, Burris is among the league’s career leaders in passing. His 324 touchdown passes, 3,672 completions and 51,529 total yards rank fourth amongst leaders. In addition he’s a two-time Grey Cup champion and was named the Grey Cup MVP in 2008.
“It makes all the difference in the world having (Burris) back there,” said wide receiver Aaron Hargreaves. “A quarterback is the centre-piece of any team so to have a guy like that with his experience, arm strength and composure he has is definitely beneficial.”
Hargreaves believes Burris’ experience will be extremely beneficial come game time, but says the QB’s enthusiasm can’t be overlooked.
“The fact that he loves the game and is all smiles and is out here to have a good time is great, but at the same time he’s all business,” said Hargreaves. “He has that veteran presence and can really settle the huddle down and get the guys focused on the job at hand.
“Having a guy like Henry puts us that much ahead of the curve and on par with any other offence in the league.”
Many might wonder why Burris would choose to sign with a new team at this stage of his career, but for the married father of two boys the decision was fairly simple.
It came down to family.
With relatives in Springfield, Mass., Burris will finally have the opportunity to play before family and friends.
“It was important to my wife Nicole and I that our boys have the opportunity to spend more time with family,” said Burris. “I think it’s going to be a great experience.”
Burris also had a number of close friends from the football community rave about Ottawa as a football destination and says he plans on ensuring he and his teammates embrace all the city has to offer.
“I want to find out about all those great restaurants and where to get good poutine,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve heard about BluesFest and want to support the other teams in the city. This is going to be home for my family and a lot of other guys.”
With that in mind Burris says he plans on being a supportive role model for his teammates whether it be to discuss plays on the field or where to buy a car.
“I was fortunate to work with some great guys, guys that gave back to me regardless of where I’ve been. Guys like Jeff Garcia, Brett Favre and Dave Dickinson to a number of different people that I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with,” said Burris. “It was all consistent. Guys worked hard for their own, but also they took opportunities to give it back to you and I want to pass it along to these young guys as well.”
Burris sees a lot of talent in his teammates, whether they are fellow members of the CFL or guys still playing at the university level.
“These guys have a lot of ability and a lot of talent and they’re good people as well and if there’s anybody you want to see do well it’s good people,” added Burris.
That’s not to say Burris doesn’t take some good ribbing.
“I enjoy giving him a hard time and call him old man any chance I get,” said lineman Jon Gott with a laugh. “He’ll lead guys and guys can lean on him when they need support so he’ll be there for everyone.”
Gott believes it’s likely Burris’ young spirit that has allowed him to remain so competitive.
“He’s probably the most confident quarterback in the league,” said Gott. “You just see it. He knows how to win and he knows how to get it done.”