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This article was published 10/10/2015 (1766 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
VANCOUVER — He’s always been the one who got away.
And it’s precisely because Winnipeg native Andrew Harris did get away the prospect of bringing the B.C. Lions tailback back home this coming off-season will be so tantalizing to a Winnipeg Blue Bombers franchise that has struggled to develop an effective running game in recent seasons.
The six-year CFL veteran — who led the CFL in rushing coming into last week — is a free agent at the end of this season, and the 28-year-old made clear the other day he will be open to offers, including one from the team he grew up watching as a kid.
"The contract is definitely up," said Harris. "And for me, it’s taking it one game at a time and letting the rest play out. But every game at this point is crucial. It’s a job interview for every team that might be interested in me.
"And even for myself, just to know that I can still be an elite player and just to know what I will be worth at the end of the season. Every game is crucial, every snap is crucial and I’m just focusing on being the best player I can be."
If that sounds like unusually frank talk from an athlete who, it bears reminding, is still under contract to the Lions, well that’s because you need to understand Harris’s relationship with the Lions has been contentious at times.
Harris has made no secret of his frustrations this season with an offensive scheme he believes has under-utilized his running abilities. Last month, Harris bolted the stadium immediately following another loss, skipping both the media and a shower after a game in which he rushed just four times for three yards.
The fact the Lions haven’t yet locked down Harris to a contract extension — something GM Wally Buono is known to prefer to do early with his key players — is also indicative the frustrations in the relationship might be on both sides.
Then there’s the matter of money. The talk here last week was Harris is seeking a significant raise that would pay him in the neighborhood of $150,000 a season, which is roughly what the Calgary Stampeders are paying non-import tailback Jon Cornish.
And Harris is making those demands in an environment where the market rate for non-import franchise-type players just went up dramatically with the $225,000-plus per season deal the Montreal Alouettes gave linebacker Henoc Muamba.
So, Harris was asked by a group of Winnipeg reporters the other day, would you be interested in returning home and playing for the Blue and Gold?
"I kind of thought that was coming," Harris said with a laugh.
"For me, wherever I go it will be a good experience. If I stay here, I’d be happy too. But it’s all about the right place for me at that time. And at this point, who knows where that will be."
Harris has battled injuries and inconsistency in his six seasons in B.C. His best year came in 2012 when he rushed for 1,112 yards, and he just missed hitting the 1,000-yard mark in 2013, when he ran for 998 yards.
He missed six games with injury last season, however, and settled for just 652 yards.
"It’s definitely been a roller coaster," said Harris. "When things were going really well, it’s been great. And when they haven’t, it’s been tough."
But Harris has been healthy this season and had rushed for a league-leading 819 yards heading into Saturday’s game against the Bombers at BC Place.
Perhaps most impressive about Harris this season, however, is he’s in contention for what would be his first league rushing title, despite having fewer than 10 carries in four games this season.
Harris makes clear a rushing title would be particularly sweet, for a lot of reasons.
"It’s the ultimate goal for me right now, other than the playoffs," he said. "That’s something I haven’t done in my career yet," he says. "It’s definitely something I want to accomplish and I’m working hard to get that...
"And just for the fact that in (four) weeks this season, I was pretty much a non-contributor on this offence. So to still be the rushing leader, it just shows that I can do well."
Harris has a seven-year-old daughter, Hazel, who lives in Winnipeg. And Harris says, yes, she will play into his decision where he signs after this season.
"All my family is in Winnipeg and I’ve lived with the fact I’ve been out here this long," he said. "But my daughter is getting older and I do miss her and I do miss being around her.
"That is something that will weigh into the decision. But ultimately, it’s about the right fit and who shows the most interest."
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
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