CFL star Harris returns to region to speak at gala event
The Niverville Nighthawks couldn’t have found a better guest for their first-ever red carpet gala. The Nighthawks tapped former Eastman Raider and four-time Grey Cup champion Andrew Harris to speak at their event.
Harris not only brought the perspective of an elite athlete to guests, but was able to relate to the players. The running back took an uncommon path to professional football, playing in the junior ranks for the Vancouver Island Raiders before making the leap to the B.C. Lions.
“That’s where you find that hunger, that’s where you blossom,” Harris said on junior football.
“Sports in general creates confidence, it creates bonds and it sets you up in networks and situation where you’ll thrive to become the person you’re going to be.”
While the now 35-year-old has committed to playing one more year in the CFL, Harris has already planned his post-playing career. He has become the director of football operations for his former junior team in B.C., with an eye towards becoming the program’s head coach in 2024.
“I’ve been lucky enough, and fortunate enough, to play for 13, 14 years in the CFL, and I’ve done some great things, I’m just looking forward to my next stage, my next chapter,” Harris said after the Nighthawks gala.
“It was very inspiring to be here, to see where this club has come from, and how it started and where it’s going. It’s very similar to my journey when I started in Nanimo, and now I’m coming full circle.”
The all time leading Canadian rusher in CFL history told stories of his football journey to the assembled crowd at the Niverville Nighthawks gala, recounting tales of his championship exploits. It’s not a bad career for someone who admitted he was “a hockey player first,” only picking up football when he moved to Steinbach in middle school.
“I remember being a deer in the headlights, but picking it up pretty quickly” Harris said on his time as an Eastman Raider, laughing.
“It started me off, got me to go to high school, and the rest is history.”
Harris said he was impressed with the way Niverville has built up their junior program in such a short time, connecting with the players especially. When Harris first suited up for the Vancouver Island Raiders, the franchise had only played a single season of junior football.
“This club is doing things the right way, and it’s very inspiring to be here,” Harris said.
A passion for junior sports is apparent anytime Harris spoke, noting he wants to create additional paths for athletes to succeed beyond just the collegiate level.
“There’s guys that aren’t just straight-up student athletes, there’s guys who want to do other things in life,” he said.
“I just want to bring more attention to that, and develop the next level.”
To that end, Harris is already recruiting players to come to Vancouver Island, video-chatting with high school players to recruit them to the Raiders.
“One of the biggest things I ask my athletes I’m talking to now is ‘what is your goal for next year, two years, five years?’” Harris said.
“If I can help get them to that goal, then I’m going to sell them on the opportunity in Nanimo, if not, I’m going to tell them straight up maybe it’s not the right opportunity for you.”
Harris’ return to the double-blue is part of his quest for four consecutive Grey Cups, winning with Winnipeg in 2019 and 2021 (cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19), and with Toronto in 2022, defeating his former hometown team in dramatic fashion.
“I’m coming for another Grey Cup for sure, and I’m really excited for the opportunity in Toronto,” Harris said, noting he strongly considered retiring this off-season.
“I just felt I had a little more to give… Seeing the guys sign back, seeing the situation we’re in, I figured I’d get one more in.”
Harris lent his full support to the gala, not only speaking, but also sweetening the pot during the fundraiser’s live auction. One of the prizes was an autographed jersey with tickets to watch Harris play in Winnipeg later this year. Harris committed to getting sideline passes to whoever won the auction, and chipped in two grey cup tickets for 2024 as well.
The winning bid for the prize would rise to $5,000.