Trevor Harris has already exceeded his wildest dreams, so why not shoot for the moon?
“When I came up here (to the CFL), I just wanted to learn,” said the eighth-year CFL veteran quarterback, one of the Eskimos’ many prized acquisitions during the first few hours of free agency in February. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a pro football player and I just wanted to earn a roster spot every day. That mindset has never left me.
“I’ve wanted to continue to grow as a person, as a leader, as a man, as a football player and as a future mentor to young men when I coach,” Harris continued. “My hunger for the game has only intensified with the more success I’ve had, and my goals have changed in terms of just wanting to play a few years, but now it’s to the point where I want to do tremendous things with teammates and create a legacy in Edmonton.
“I’m just excited to be joining all my brothers in Edmonton, and we’re going to go at it.”
Harris, who will have turned 33 by the time the regular season begins with a home game against the Montreal Alouettes on June 14, is acquainted with the Eskimos’ storied traditions and history of success.
“I heard about Warren Moon and Hugh Campbell and Ricky Ray from the time I was with (Ray) in Toronto,” Harris said about his first four CFL seasons from 2012-15. “(Ray is) one of my best friends. I heard a lot about the Grey Cup teams of the ‘70s and then the Ricky Ray and Jason Maas teams from the early 2000s.
“You just want to bring consistent Grey Cups back to the city,” he added. “They call it the City of Champions for a reason. But we won’t focus on the past. We’ll focus on the present and do everything we can to try and bring a championship to the city one year at a time.”
The Eskimos may have missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons last year, but they are reloading instead of rebuilding this year. They signed a dozen CFL free agents during the off-season and re-signed or extended the contracts of several key veteran players.
“It just came down to my belief in Brock (Sunderland, the Eskimos’ General Manager and Vice-President of Football Operations),” said Harris, who first met Sunderland when he was the assistant GM in Ottawa. “We’re going to do everything we can to raise the bar and raise the standard. Last year was a year that Edmonton didn’t make the playoffs. We want to rectify that and have a great season and, hopefully, be able to hoist the Cup at the end of the season.
“We’re just going to take it one step at a time and focus on ourselves and try to be the best team we can be walking into (training) camp and then improve every day from there out. Toward the end of the year, when we’re a nice product on the field, that’s working on the field cohesively and a very tough out. That’s kind of where we’re at, and we’re just going to work to earn it every single day.”
Harris, who spent the last three seasons with the Ottawa RedBlacks and played in the 2018 Grey Cup at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium, is not only expected to be an important part of the Eskimos’ plans to play in this year’s Grey Cup at Calgary, but he also replaces veteran quarterback Mike Reilly, who left Edmonton via free agency.
“I don’t know anything other than replacing a legend, so it’s not new hat to me, and it’s not something that strikes any fear in me,” said Harris, who also filled in for the stoic Ray with the Argonauts and replaced the charismatic Henry Burris at Ottawa. “My job is to come in and raise the bar and show that we have improved and I’m going to do everything in my power to do that.”
Harris was actually hoping the current scenario would play out after talks with the RedBlacks management dried up in January.
“It was a weird transition because, after the end of the season, I don’t know that anybody – including myself, (the Eskimos), the RedBlacks organization – anticipated (me) making a move,” Harris pointed out. “This one was unforeseen just in terms with I didn’t have much communication with them. We talked in mid-January, but that was about it. It came to a fruition that (free agency) was going to open up and I was hoping that Mike might move on from Edmonton because I thought that might be the best fit for me.
“I was really happy to know that it was a mutual interest.”
Still, it was difficult to leave Ottawa after getting involved with the city, the culture and the fans for the past three seasons.
“I grew up so much there. I went there as just a spot-duty backup and became a franchise guy, and we ended up going to a Grey Cup. A lot of that is tough to leave behind, but at the same time, I couldn’t be more elated.
“To say that I’m viciously motivated and excited to be here would be a massive understatement. To be a part of this culture and the city and the fans and the greatness that I’m getting the chance to walk into, I just want to do my part, be a cog in the engine coming here and lead these guys as best I can and try to raise the bar as high as we can.”
Harris is interested to see what Head Coach Jason Maas and Offensive Coordinator Jordan Maksymic build into the offence to fit his playing style.
“He’s a very innovative mind,” Harris said about Maas, his first CFL quarterback coach in Toronto. “He’s got a lot of ideas.
“When you watch (the Eskimos) on film, they do a lot of things to create matchups. He’s done a great job with his offence. … hopefully, I’m going to earn the job, and I’ll want to do things that I’m good at and, hopefully, we can do great things together.”
What are some of Harris’s strengths?
“I pride myself more on the non-measurable things like I’m going to be the same guy every day, I’m going to be a great leader in terms of influencing my guys,” Harris said. “In terms of physical strengths, a lot of people have told me that my accuracy and anticipation is up there and I guess just ability to read coverage and get through my progressions.”
Harris isn’t likely to spend as much time as Reilly did entertaining the media with stories during the daily post-practice scrums.
“Ricky Ray and I are more along the lines of just don’t talk much and just go out and play,” Harris said.
Although it initially felt strange to say he was now playing in Edmonton, Harris said he’s adjusted and already feels like he’s a part of the Eskimos organization.
“Just getting to know some of the players and texting guys every day to kind of check in and see how everybody’s doing and introduce myself,” he said. “It’s been a blast.”
He also recently received some Eskimos clothing “to get used to the colour scheme” at his home in Marion, Ohio.
“It’s a new one for me,” he said about the Green-and-Gold colours. “I’m excited. Hopefully, I look OK in the jerseys.”
Harris will arrive in Edmonton along with his wife, Kalie, and two-year-old son, T.J., for training camp, which starts with a medical day on May 18th and the first session on the field on May 19th. But he’s already trying to learn about his new group of receivers by watching game film.
Greg Ellingson, a 1,000-yard receiver each of the last four years, gives Harris the luxury of having a familiar target while left offensive tackle SirVincent Rogers has protected Harris’s blindside each of the last four seasons. Both former RedBlacks players also signed with the Eskimos on the first day of free agency.
“Having Greg here, obviously, him and I will be on the same page pretty quickly, but I’ve done a lot of studying of film on the new guys,” Harris said. “I’ll pick it up pretty quick. As I’ve watched film on these guys, I’m just getting a good feel for how they like to run their routes and where they like the ball placements and all that kind of stuff.”
He also knows prospective receivers Kevin Elliott (one game) and Kenny Shaw (three games) from Ottawa in 2017.
“It’ll be fun and should be an interesting transition.”
Harris threw for a career-high 5,116 yards in 17 games last season, sitting out the final game of the regular season because Ottawa had locked up first place in the East Division.
“It was a cool barrier, and those things are cool to look at down the road and for fans to look at,” Harris said. “Obviously, as a quarterback, you want to keep your interceptions down and be productive in terms of yardage and touchdowns and completion percentage.
“Really, it just comes down to not turning the ball over and putting your team in a position to score. Those are the main things. If I’m doing that and positively influencing my guys, that’s when good things happen.”
Harris gave up only 11 interceptions last year but felt that was too high.
“The bulk of my interceptions were early in the year,” he said. “I started playing better late in the year. As you learn, you’re getting better. Hopefully, I can just continue that into this year.”
He also produced the single greatest quarterback playoff performance in CFL history by throwing for six touchdown passes and 367 yards (completing 29 of 32 passes) in last year’s East Division Final against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“It’s a product of my teammates doing the right things, getting good protection, our receivers being crisp in their routes and me having good ball placement, but it all comes down to the guys around you as a quarterback,” Harris said.