May 26th, 2024

Retiring CFL star Harris talks new documentary, overcoming mental health struggles

By Jim Bender, The Canadian Press on April 26, 2024.

Andrew Harris is leaving football as one the greatest running backs in CFL history. Harris (33) hurdles over Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Brandon Alexander (37) as defensive tackle Casey Sayles (90) looks on during the 109th Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

WINNIPEG – Andrew Harris is leaving football as one the greatest running backs in CFL history. But he says that he once went from the exhilaration of winning the 2019 Grey Cup with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to the lowest he could go.

“When you’re having suicidal thoughts, that’s about as rock bottom as you can get,” Harris told a group of local reporters on Friday. “That’s where I was at. I mean, COVID was tough on a lot of people, but I was really in that dark spot during COVID, and it was really tough to get out.”

The Winnipegger will officially sign a contract so he can retire as a Bomber on Saturday, just before the premiere of the documentary “Running Back Relentless,” which will reveal how he got out of such a dark space.

“The trauma I’ve been through, the success I’ve been able to accomplish and a lot of things that have gone on in my life,” Harris said, with his 18-month-old son, Axton, sitting on his lap. “I just want to be able to come out and inspire and maybe help someone else that’s been in a dark place that I was in.

“That was the main message. I don’t want it to be a football documentary. It’s a story about a football player, but I think it will relate to a lot of people and that’s the kind of impact that I’m hoping to achieve from it.”

Harris, 37, credited two or three close friends for getting him through his darkest hours, but didn’t name them.

He rebounded to help the Bombers win the 2021 Grey Cup wehn the CFL returned from cancelling the 2020 season due to COVID, but bitterly parted ways with Winnipeg in 2022, signing with Toronto as a free agent. The Argonauts beat the Bombers in the 2022 Grey Cup game.

Harris began his CFL career with the B.C. Lions in 2009, then signed with the Bombers as a free agent in 2016. He’s the CFL’s all-time leading Canadian rusher with 10,380 yards and 51 touchdowns.

He is just one of six players in league history to have surpassed the 10,000-yard mark. He also caught 67 passes for 5,489 yards and 32 TDs.

After the 2023 season in Toronto, Harris reached out to Winnipeg, asking if he could officially retire as a Bomber. They approved.

“The big thing is, it feels like home,” Harris said in the Bombers media room. “It feels like I never left. Even going through this process of wanting to end my career as a Bomber, it just felt like the right thing. It just felt like a whole new family type of vibe to it, so I’m just excited to go through it and end it the way I did.

“It was a dream-come-true for me to become a Bomber, the memories while I was here, the growth of the team from 2016 to 2021 and where the team is now. I mean, they’re on top of the league, from a culture standpoint, from standings, from all-stars, from players on the team, coaching. It’s the standard and I really felt like being a part of that from 2016 on was a big part of my career.”

With the Bombers, Harris won three rushing titles (2017-19) and was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian in 2017. He is sixth in Bombers career rushing with 5,402 yards. He was also selected the 2019 Grey Cup MVP and top Canadian.

Most of his career highlights came as a Bomber.

“I remember the first time coming out of the tunnel (in 2017),” he said. “I think we played Montral here in a pre-season game. I’ve gotten goose bumps and chills down my spine before, but I’ve never had that feeling that I did at that time “¦ I think playing against Saskatchewan in the West Final after coming back from injury, that was a big one.

“Winning the Grey Cup in 2019 was probably the best moment of my life, football-wise. But honestly, in the locker room with the characters we’ve had here over the years, there are so many moments, just spending time with the guys. So many moments of just fun, great times, memories that will last forever, for sure.”

Harris, who also won the 2011 Cup with the Lions, was asked how he wants to be remembered.

“I think the biggest thing is how I always left it on the field and played with that optimum fire in my belly,” said the five-foot-11, 202-pounder. “I never really considered myself the biggest, fastest, strongest, but my edge was always my effort and how I attacked the game from a mental standpoint, and I never left a game with regrets.”

Harris made sure he was ready for life after football. He is now a salesman for the Atlas Engineered Products and based out of London, Ont.

“I knew I had a job and a career lined up,” said Harris, whose partner has another baby on the way. “I’m going to be comfortable financially and comfortable in my role, and it’s also a competitive environment for me.”

Harris is also the head of operations for the V.I. Raiders, his junior football team, and recently joined a senior hockey team in Tilsonburg, Ont.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2024.

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