The Canadian Football League has its standouts, but is largely a haven for survivors and players seeking a second, third or fourth chance. Rosters are dotted with men who have come north seeking validation, if not exactly fame and fortune.
The latest turn in the long and winding road that is Trevor Harris’s career finds him in Edmonton, where he has assumed the starting quarterback duties previously ascribed to Mike Reilly.
It is tricky terrain when one replaces a luminary, but for Harris, it is a familiar role. In Toronto and Ottawa he played behind, and eventually ahead of, Ricky Ray and Henry Burris.
“I have never had the luxury of easing into a comfortable situation,” Harris says after a preseason practice in 30-degree heat at Commonwealth Stadium. “I have never not played behind a certain Hall-of-Famer.”
Harris signed a two-year contract as a free agent with the Eskimos in February at $525,000 a season. That’s big dough in the CFL, even if it is a bit below minimum wage for the NFL.
Reilly left Edmonton to play for the Lions in British Columbia, nearer his home in Washington State.
No doubt fans in northern Alberta are fretting about the departure of the league’s top signal caller. Perhaps needlessly.
Even with Reilly throwing and running for a combined 6,100 yards and 43 touchdowns last season, the Eskimos still missed the playoffs.
Harris is 32 and not in the least intimidated by his new surroundings.
“I am just going to be myself,” Harris says. “I can assure the whole city that I am going to wake up every day and do everything I possibly can to raise the bar for this team.
“I am insanely fortunate to be here.”
These are the words of a fellow who is hard to repress. He has experienced so much toil and trouble.
He went undrafted by the NFL even as one of the most prolific passers in NCAA history at Edinboro University, a second-tier program in Pennsylvania.
He was invited to training camp but waived by the Jacksonville Jaguars and thus began a sojourn through the murky backwaters of football that would have been comical if not for real.
He played for Rattlers, Colonials, Mountain Lions and Predators in the Arena, Indoor and United Football Leagues. One team fired all of its players as they were en route to their opening game. Another folded nine days into training camp. A third cancelled the season after five games when it ran out of money.
Then the Buffalo Bills called and extended a tryout offer, only to rescind it 36 hours later because of a lockout.
“When I look back, it is pretty insane,” Harris says.
Despite the turmoil, he has cobbled together a formidable résumé. He won Grey Cups as a backup in Toronto in 2012 and Ottawa in 2016.
He passed for nearly 10,000 yards as the Redblacks starter over the past two seasons and led them to another Grey Cup appearance last November. Calgary beat Ottawa 27-16 in what is the biggest disappointment of Harris’s professional career.
He expected to return to the Redblacks but ended up in a dispute with management over a signing bonus. Edmonton, which knew Reilly was likely to leave, ponied up.
Harris is the third-highest-paid player in the league after Reilly ($725,000) and Bo Levi Mitchell of Calgary ($700,000).
“I would be hard-pressed to say I’ve ever been this excited heading into a season,” Harris says.
He played one quarter in Edmonton’s first exhibition game and will sit out Friday night’s preseason contest in Winnipeg.
Neither Harris nor Jason Maas, the Eskimos coach, is worried about him being rusty heading into the June 14 season-opener at home against the Montreal Alouettes.
“I think he feels more comfortable with everything,” Maas says.
Edmonton fans will soon feel comfortable with him. He is friendly and outgoing and exudes Midwest charm.
He grew up in blue-collar Waldo, Ohio, a township with fewer than 350 people.
And where’s Waldo?
It is a 45-minute drive north of Columbus, and it is known for a culinary peculiarity.
“Waldo is world famous for fried bologna sandwiches,” Harris says earnestly.
The slabs of smoked meat are served at the G&R Tavern on hamburger buns and topped with raw onions, pickles and melted Monterey Jack cheese.
Harris promises they are delectable, and offers to cook one almost on the spot to plead his case.
When he was a kid, his dad, Tom, would run over to the local prison on Tuesday nights to box inmates for fun. Trevor boxes to improve his footwork and also tap-dances for the same reason.
It is hard not to like a tap-dancing quarterback.
In his final college game, he threw for an NCAA Div. II-record 630 yards and five touchdowns and ran for two more. Edinboro lost 84–63 to West Liberty anyway. What a bum.
In Ottawa, he took a $40,000 pay cut one season so the team had a smidgen more cash to spread around.
He married his sweetheart, Kalie.
“We were together in high school but then we split up for seven years,” he says.
Even though they were apart, he would call her just to say hi every few months.
“She was always the one that got away,” Harris says.
One day she called him out of the blue, and now they have been married for nearly four years.
“I’ve missed some wide-open receivers but I wasn’t going to miss on that pass,” he says.