Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

He's got the Lion by the tail

Winnipeg product Harris having a great year

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VANCOUVER -- The headlines in the CFL the last couple weeks tell you all you need to know about the kind of year B.C. Lions tailback -- and Winnipeg native -- Andrew Harris has been having on the field:

"Andrew Harris runs roughshod over Roughriders in BC win"; "Andrew Harris rumbles his way to weekly CFL honours"; "Andrew Harris named top Canadian for 2nd week in a row."

Pretty good year, right?

Lost amidst all the attention Harris's exploits on the field have received early in this 2014 CFL season is that he has also been having a year to remember off of it.

First, there was an off-season contract extension. Then there was a new off-season sales job and a full-time move to the Lower Mainland. And then to cap it all off, Harris met his birth father for the first time during the off-season after a lengthy online search.

'I think he's grown tremendously as a person... He's pushed himself to a higher level of accountability and leadership and I think he's approaching the game with a different mentality from an attack point of view'

-- B.C. Lions head coach Mike Benevides, on Andrew Harris

The two men, it turned out, had been living four blocks apart out here for years and never knew it. "I was just staring at him. It was really quiet at first, then we just started talking," Harris told the Vancouver Province's Lowell Ulrich earlier this summer. "Just seeing his mannerisms and attitude, there's similarities. Even my feet, they look the same. Our smiles. Everything."

An off-season of tremendous personal growth off the field for Harris has been parlayed into what early indications suggest might yet turn out to be a career season on it.

"I think he grew a lot last season -- as a person and as an athlete," Lions head coach Mike Benevides said of Harris.

"I think he's grown tremendously as a person... He's pushed himself to a higher level of accountability and leadership and I think he's approaching the game with a different mentality from an attack point of view."

The catalyst for all the changes in Harris's life -- on and off the field -- appears to have been what was a challenging year for him on the field in 2013. While Harris finished just two yards short of 1,000 yards rushing last season, he frustrated with having to share the rushing duties with Stefan Logan for the first time -- and by an offensive scheme he felt didn't give him enough opportunities to contribute.

"Last year was really frustrating -- on so many different levels," Harris said this week. "But it's in the past now and I'm just really optimistic about this year and it's been going great so far. So I'm really happy."

With former Lions offensive co-ordinator Jacques Chapdelaine out and new coordinator Khari Jones in to run the B.C. offence this season, Harris has had all the touches he can handle. Heading into Friday night's matchup at B.C. Place against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Harris led the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage, sat second in combined yards behind Logan and was third in pass receiving.

In retrospect, Benevides thinks all the adversity on the field last season was exactly what Harris needed.

"I think Andrew in his athletic life never really faced adversity -- he was always the best of the best, a man amongst boys," said Benevides.

"I think athletically he had never faced challenges. But obviously in his personal life he had and he had learned to overcome those things."

Harris admits he was a troubled youth and struggling student at Oak Park High school and he only really found a personal anchor in football when he moved to B.C. and became a junior star.

He still has a six-year-old daughter in Winnipeg, which must have made the decision to move full time to Vancouver this year a challenging one.

Harris says he's resolved this year to live mindfully and keep his focus exclusively on today.

"Anything that is disappointing, you just move forward. I'm taking the mindset this year -- no matter if it's a good game or bad game, I forgot about two weeks ago, I forgot about last week. The new challenge is just Winnipeg and just trying to play the best I can this week."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2014 C3

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