You can’t play football forever.
Players don’t need to be reminded of this. They know it’s a game where all it takes is one play to end a career. For those lucky enough to avoid getting carted off the field, Father Time will eventually call their number.
Despite this being a foregone conclusion, not everyone who gets paid to strap on a helmet is prepared for life after football. There is no shortage of gut-wrenching stories about players whose lives took a turn for the worse once they stopped running out of the tunnel to the roar of the crowd.
But if you look at two star Winnipeg Blue Bombers, it could be a sign those stories are becoming fewer and farther between.
Andrew Harris and Adam Bighill are ahead of the game on and off the field. They might not be signed to multimillion-dollar contracts, but CFL stars still bring home a nice six-figure salary. Harris and Bighill don’t need to pick up a second job. In all honesty, they could hold off on working a "real" job until they hang up the pads.
But Harris and Bighill aren’t waiting. In fact, they don’t wait until the off-season to start other work. In between the practices, film sessions, workouts, recovery sessions and games, Harris and Bighill have made time for a second career.
Harris works as a senior sales representative for South Central Building Systems, a company based out of Carman. The all-star running back, who was named the Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian in the Blue Bombers’ Grey Cup victory in November, sells supplies such as wooden floor and roof trusses to builders. These builders have construction projects all across Canada.
"I have a daughter and a family I want to support. When it’s all said and done, I want to be able to keep the money that I’ve saved in the savings account and still live the lifestyle that I’ve built up throughout the years," Harris told the Free Press.
"This is an opportunity to better myself, better my family’s opportunities and work toward something that, when I’m done playing, I could be potentially making more money than I am now." — Andrew Harris
"The thing is, I’m a master at football and understanding how to take care of my body and still be able to multi-task. I coach soccer as well and I got a lot of other things going on outside of football. So, this is just another thing. I’m an A-type personality where I can’t really sit still. I need to be busy and constantly be stimulated. This is an opportunity to better myself, better my family’s opportunities and work toward something that, when I’m done playing, I could be potentially making more money than I am now and move forward into expanding my life and the opportunities I can give to my family."
Bighill also works with clients, although in a different capacity — the linebacker is an investment adviser with Wellington Altus Private Wealth. He took the Canadian Securities course while playing football and got a job at Wellington just under a year ago. Bighill helps people with debt counseling, planning for retirement and much more.
At Central Washington University, Bighill was a kinesiology major and had aspirations to get into medical school. It turns out he was pretty good at this football thing, so that plan went out the window.
"When I was with the B.C. Lions, probably four years into my career and after having a child, I was like ‘OK, I’m not going to go to med school after football. How am I going to do that with a family?’ So from there, it was ‘What do I want to do?’ I was really interested in managing my own investments at that point. I had (invested in) a company once I was playing in the CFL. I was curious to see how (the investment) was doing and it wasn’t performing very well.
“For me, it was important to be able to start something before football ended for me, to have that smooth career transition when I’m done playing.” — Adam Bighill
"It helped me focus my energy into understanding more of the finance area," said Bighill, who happily gives financial advice to teammates when they ask for it.
After six seasons with the Lions and a season in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, the Montesano, Wash., native signed with Winnipeg in 2018 and moved his family — wife Kristina, son A.J., and daughter Leah — here full time. The family has since grown to include sixth-month-old Beau.
"At the end of the day, I’m 31 now. There’s so many football players that just by the time you’re done playing football, let’s say you play eight years and you come out and enter the workforce at 28 years old and you don’t have a resumé other than saying football player. So, where are you going to work? What are you going to do? What’s your entry level going to be? Is that going to be able to maintain the lifestyle that you’ve been living while playing football? These are things we see problems with all the time with football players, that they don’t have smooth transitions because players haven’t had the ability or never wanted to focus on what was going on outside of football," said Bighill, a two-time CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player award winner.
"For me, it was important to be able to start something before football ended for me, to have that smooth career transition when I’m done playing right into another career that I’ve already launched."
As the face of his hometown team, Harris would, in all likelihood, land on his feet just fine once he’s done playing. But when an old friend of his, Hadi Abassi, reached out with an opportunity, Harris had to listen. Their relationship dates back to when Harris played junior football for the Vancouver Island Raiders in Nanaimo. Abassi founded the team and was also the founder of Atlas Engineered Products. He hooked the running back up with a labour job, which had Harris doing a wide range of things until he signed with the Lions. When Atlas went public and acquired South Central Building Systems three years ago, Abassi offered Harris a sales job and he jumped at it. Harris has always kept busy outside of football, as he worked as a car salesman in B.C. for six months and got his real estate licence there. He also owned a night club in Nanaimo with Abassi.
A big reason why Harris hasn’t been shy to try things outside of football is because of what he saw at the beginning of his career with the Lions.
"I remember seeing a number of guys who were like kind of in their last couple years and going through certain issues at home. Just struggles where I could see they were hitting that, I wouldn’t call it a midlife crisis, but like where they’re realizing their days are numbered and they’re kind of panicking that they got two or three kids at home and they’re like ‘Oh man, what do I do next?’ That kind of scared me," Harris admitted.
“When I had little injuries and stuff, I’d really think about it. That’s what got me really motivated into wanting to make sure that my ducks were in a row once this game is over." — Andrew Harris
"When I had little injuries and stuff, I’d really think about it. That’s what got me really motivated into wanting to make sure that my ducks were in a row once this game is over. I’ve always said I want to be done with this game when I’m done with it. I don’t want it to be over when the game is done with me. So, this is really important for me to have, to have something established and working towards something that’s concrete that can feed my family after and there’s not going to be a hitch in lifestyle when it’s all said and done."
Thanks to all-Canadian receiver Jason Clermont, Harris, who spent his first six CFL seasons with the Lions, also saw what life could look like if your ducks were indeed in a row.
"I remember him rolling up to practice in this $200,000 Mercedes and I was like ‘Wow, that guy must be doing some other things off the field.’ It was a beautiful car. He might’ve only been making $140,000 and this guy was driving a car more than his salary. But, he was big into real estate. He’d go back to Regina and was selling tons of real estate. Jason Clermont really opened up my eyes. He loves the game and the game can be great to you. The salary he was making was very, very healthy, but he always wanted more and you could tell he was hungry for it and set himself up for later. That was definitely one guy that kind of inspired me to think this way," Harris said.
To say it takes a motivated person to juggle pro football and a more traditional career at the same time would be an understatement.
During the season, Bighill wakes up at 5 a.m., cracks open the computer to get some work done, reads up on what’s going on in the financial world, works out, goes to team meetings, hits the field for practice, has lunch, does some stretching, then he’s back to being an investment adviser in the late afternoon. After all of that, he gets to be dad for a couple of hours before heading to bed at 9:30 p.m.
Harris doesn’t head home after practice to kick up his feet and relax, either. He leaves IG Field and hits the road to check on job sites and visit customers.
Yes, their work on the gridiron is what Harris and Bighill are known for, but there’s a lot more to these guys than playing football.
"I want to be remembered as one of the best to ever play the game at my position, but at the same time, I want to be remembered for what I’ve done to help others in the community," Bighill said.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
Updated on Thursday, March 26, 2020 at 9:36 PM CDT: Adds deck
9:43 PM: Updates photo captions.