You don’t usually see 11-year veterans look excited as they run out onto the field for a practice in December.
But Andrew Harris ran onto the field Wednesday with extra pep in his step as the 34-year old running back was participating in his first practice since suffering a knee injury Oct. 15 in Edmonton.
"It’s crazy how much you take for granted those little things. Just the excitement of being able to get back on the field was definitely an exciting moment for me," Harris told a room of reporters at IG Field.
"Just to be able to get through practice and practise the way I did today, I feel really strong about today and optimistic about today. I’m just looking forward to building off this."
But Bomberland, and Rider Nation for that matter, is more interested in hearing if Harris is optimistic about playing the West Division final on Sunday. It’s a battle of the prairies as the Bombers host Saskatchewan at IG Field for a spot in the Grey Cup on the line.
Harris was a full participant Wednesday and looked like his old self, but he and head coach Mike O’Shea weren’t ready to confirm his status for the weekend. All signs are pointing in the right direction, though, with Harris sharing that he feels in better shape now than he did at the beginning of the season. The team set out a comeback plan for Harris and he’s checked all the boxes up to this point.
"Being part of the playoffs and being in the playoffs is definitely massive for me. I know my teammates were excited to see me come back today and get back in the lineup, but again, nothing is set in stone yet for Sunday still," Harris said.
"We’ll just take it day by day right now and hopefully, fingers crossed, I’ll be in the mix."
Harris has gone several rounds with the injury bug this year as he missed most of training camp as well as the first three games of the season with calf injury. To his credit, when he made his season debut in Week 4 against Calgary, he showed zero signs of rust, rushing 17 times for 81 yards and scoring a touchdown. If given the opportunity, Harris is confident he can once again show that a long layoff won’t slow him down.
"I’ve been playing for a lot of years. A lot of snaps, a lot of touches. Obviously, when you miss some games, there’s a little bit of that cadence that you want to get back in, but after a couple plays, it’ll come back fairly quickly so I’m not too concerned about that," he said.
Harris had a shot at winning his fourth straight rushing crown, but that dream came to an end when he left at the end of the first half of a 26-16 win against the Elks in Week 11. Harris dove for the end zone and was grabbing his knee as he left the field. Harris said he was in a lot of pain but was able to walk around fine after which gave him hope that it wasn’t going to be a season-ending injury.
"I think midway through the season I was catching stride there and getting back into rhythm and the way we were playing, it was definitely something I wanted to attain, but this is the business that we’re in," said Harris, who still managed to crack the top five with 623 rushing yards on 116 carries in seven games.
"It’s a tough one to stay healthy. I’ve honestly been really lucky my whole career. I haven’t had too many injuries that have taken me out. But that’s what it is this year. It’s been a difficult one to deal with, personally and mentally, and something I’ve had to learn to deal with. That’s been the biggest challenge for me, other than, obviously, not playing, it’s the mental side of it."
The Bombers still managed to rush for the second-most yards in the league (1,676), but that doesn’t mean that No. 33 wouldn’t be a huge addition to the offence. Harris showed back in 2019 that he’s capable of playing his best on the big stage as he had 169 total yards and two touchdowns in the Bombers' 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Grey Cup. Harris was named the championship game’s Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Canadian.
"He’s the best back in the league and he’s been the heartbeat of our team for a long time," said veteran offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld.
"Having him back there practising was a huge boost for the whole organization."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.