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Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris has denied he knowingly took a banned substance, steadfastly maintaining a health supplement he took was contaminated.

The 32-year-old Winnipegger recently tested positive for an anabolic steroid and has been suspended for two games by the CFL. He failed a drug test in July, and a second test of the urine sample confirmed the existence of the banned performance-enhancing substance metandienone in his system, the league confirmed Monday.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris said he took a contaminated men’s energy supplement. (Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press files)</p>

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris said he took a contaminated men’s energy supplement. (Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press files)

The five-time all-star will miss the Labour Day Classic Sunday (2 p.m.) in Regina against the Roughriders and the rematch — the Banjo Bowl — the following Saturday in Winnipeg.

Winnipeg (8-2), the West Division’s top squad, is already without starting quarterback Matt Nichols and must now contend without the services of its primary offensive weapon against Saskatchewan (6-3).

Harris said he didn’t take the substance intentionally. It was a men’s energy supplement, although he didn’t state the product name or where he bought it.

He learned about the results nearly three weeks ago but had to wait for the results of the second test and a final ruling from the league. Since both samples tested positive there is no other appeal process, yet Harris maintains his innocence.

"I took a supplement, and it's one that was contaminated and stated it was all natural ingredients. Obviously, it wasn't and I'm taking full responsibility for the fact that I did take that." –Andrew Harris

"If you look at the dates, July 2 I had blood and urine tests which came back negative, and then on July 12 there was a very small trace of a banned substance. So, if I was intentionally taking this substance there would be more of a volume in my system instead of a small trace," he said.

"The one thing I have on my side is the timing and the volume. I’ve been tested three times this year, I’ve been tested more than any other player in my four years here, and I’ve never had an issue. When I first found out I didn’t even really believe it. I was kind of beside myself. I just wanted answers. Getting that B sample is something we went through, and it was the same answer. So, at that point there was not much else you can do."

Harris is allowed to practise and attend team meetings but cannot join the team on game days.

He said the last few weeks have been extremely difficult on him.

"It’s been devastating. It’s been hard to focus on football, hard to come in. After winning games I’m thinking about what’s going to happen in a couple of days or next week, how this is going to affect my team and the journey we’re on. I don’t want to be a distraction, I would never want to put my team in jeopardy, myself in jeopardy or my career. I gotta face the music and just try to move on from it," he said.

Harris, who said he doesn’t run his list of supplements past the club’s medical staff (nor was he required to do so), said he feels like he’s let his teammates and the community down.

"You put a lot of energy and effort and hours in with these guys and become a family, and you never want to let a family member down," he said. "When I addressed the team (Sunday), that was the feeling in my stomach. It hurts. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this game and work my butt off to be where I’m at. Now, it’s being questioned. It’s tough."

Harris is the league’s rushing leader, with 908 yards on 141 carries. He is on his way to a third-straight 1,000-yard campaign, and was a candidate for CFL most outstanding player before the doping revelation.

Nichols said the 5-10, 216-pound star running back has been nothing short of brilliant since he signed with his hometown team in 2016 after six seasons with the B.C. Lions.

"Instantly, in this day and age when something like this pops up everyone wants to turn it into this big thing and make it into something it’s not. I’ve known Andrew for the better part of five years now and he’s one of the best people I’ve ever met. A high-integrity guy that just loves this game, loves football, loves his teammates and would never do anything to jeopardize that, so I hope that people can understand what kind of person he is and that this isn’t something he would knowingly do. It’s not something he needs," said Nichols. 

"It’s just an unfortunate thing, but he has a strong support system. I’ve already told him I’m right there with him for whatever he needs. He’s a strong dude that can handle this and he’ll get past this and move past it."

Harris said he found it strange he’s already faced three drug tests this season, and as many as four during at least one previous CFL campaign.

"I always question that. It’s an actual joke that every time the drug testers are here, I’m usually on the list. Again, I’ve never had a positive test in my career. I know the testers on a first-name basis," he said.

Earlier this month Harris hit two milestones in a victory over the visiting B.C. Lions, eclipsing Ben Cahoon’s record for most yards from scrimmage by a Canadian (13,368) and moving past Dave Thelen into 10th place for all-time rushing yards. He’s currently at 8,566 yards on the ground during his 10-year pro career.

Harris said even as he celebrated those milestones outwardly, he was experiencing a storm of emotions internally.

"It was hard to enjoy it. I was carrying this with me for a few weeks now. The B.C. game, the standing ovation. Part of the reason I got so emotional is because of this. This is something that took away from something that was really great. It was very difficult," he said, breaking down in tears.

"I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this game and work my butt off to be where I’m at. Now, it’s being questioned. It’s tough." –Andrew Harris

When the press conference ended, Harris was immediately greeted by no fewer than 10 teammates outside the room, receiving an embrace from special teams player Mike Miller.

Later, Nichols said he's standing by his friend and favourite offensive weapon.

"I’m one of those people that supports my friends in triumph and turmoil. Obviously, it’s a tough situation for Andrew but I think more than anything it’s a lesson that with all the supplement companies out there, there’s a lot that’s cross-contaminated and there’s a lot of cases like this type of thing happening," said Nichols.

"(You have to do) your due diligence on finding the safest products. But all the time we’re told as athletes even things that say they're 100 per cent certified, there’s no such thing.

Football club president and CEO Wade Miller said the team co-operated fully with the league’s investigation and supports the ruling.

"The Winnipeg Blue Bombers fully support the CFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs and have fully co-operated with the CFL in regard to this matter," he said, in a statement.

"The Winnipeg Football Club also supports Andrew Harris through this extremely difficult and unfortunate situation. We look forward to Andrew rejoining us on the field for game days following the bye week."

Three years ago, former Calgary Stampeders defensive tackle Quinn Smith was suspended for testing positive for the same banned substance.

Players who test positive face a two-game suspension for a first doping violation, a nine-game suspension for a second violation, a one-year suspension for a third violation and a lifetime ban for a fourth violation, the CFL said.

Harris is allowed to practice and attend team meetings but cannot join the team on game days.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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