CFL Pass

On His Shoulders: Harris eyes greatness with Esks

eremiah Masoli was an Edmonton Eskimo for not quite 10 months, spending his introductory season to the CFL stashed away on Edmonton’s injured list in 2012.

He never got onto the field in an official capacity that year and when the regime in Edmonton turned over at the end of that season, he was eventually traded to Hamilton.

Those days don’t come up often for Masoli, now an established starter in Tiger Town and the reigning East MOP. But he offered up a glimpse of his experience there last season, after Ricky Ray suffered his season-ending neck injury.

“My first year in Edmonton that’s all I heard were legendary stories of (Ray). And they were all true,” Masoli told reporters in the week following what turned out to be Ray’s final game.

“That same year he won a Grey Cup. He’s the one that has set the bar high in regards to winning championships. That’s what it is. Winning four championships, that’s more than you can ask for.”

Every team in the league has its share of legendary quarterbacks, but there’s something different about playing the position in Edmonton. The Esks organization is lined with not just hall of famers (“just” hall of famers says a lot already, doesn’t it?) but with all-time, legendary, history making greatness.

There’s Jackie Parker. Warren Moon. Tom Wilkinson. Matt Dunigan, Tracy Ham. Damon Allen. It keeps going. Ricky Ray. Mike Reilly.

And now, in the Esks’ 71st season, Trevor Harris is behind the wheel. He’s looking forward, trying to win games and eventually Grey Cups but when you play quarterback in Edmonton, there’s always so much behind you in the rearview. Many have risen to the challenge. Many more have fallen short.

Harris knew this when he left a great situation in Ottawa to sign with Edmonton as a free-agent. And he knows a thing or two, going on three about following up after a revered quarterback. He did it in Toronto, filling in for an injured Ray. When he went to Ottawa, he waited a year behind Henry Burris, winning a Grey Cup as a backup in 2016. After a Grey Cup loss in Edmonton last November, Harris swooped in as the sliver lining around the dark cloud that was Reilly’s free-agent departure.

Harris established himself as one of the league’s top pivots last year, winning his first playoff game. He made 29-32 passes for 367 yards and six (SIX!) touchdowns in the Eastern Final against Hamilton and proved that he could win on a big stage.

“I focus on leading my teammates, loving my teammates and doing everything I can do to be the best guy I can be for them,” Harris told reporters at the start of training camp. “We’ve just got to make sure we do everything we can to wrap our arms around each other and grow together and we’ll maximize our potential.”

In Harris, Edmonton gets not only a proven entity on the field — he threw for a career-best 5,116 yards last year — but perhaps the league’s most prepared player. In addition to the usual football player off-season training, Harris’ winters are ones spent buried in books on success and leadership, on a never ending quest for self-improvement. This past winter he took tap dancing lessons from his mother as a means of staying nimble in the pocket.

If there’s a way to get an edge, Harris looks for it.

“I think to play quarterback there’s four attributes you need to have,” Esks head coach Jason Maas told reporters at the start of camp. Maas, another great Edmonton QB, was Harris’ QBs coach in Toronto and his offensive coordinator in Ottawa.

“You need to be smart, and Trevor is. Everybody that I’ve been around that’s been really successful, puts the time in and Trevor is one of those guys. He’ll understand our offence as well as anybody on our team — he’s been in this offence for eight years. That’s a lot of experience.

“He’s accurate. We did a thing last night, and at a minimum of 100 attempts, he’s the most accurate quarterback in the history of the CFL, so he completes balls. You’ve got to be tough, mentally and physically tough, and I think Trevor is that.

“The last thing is consistency. With Trevor, I see consistency every day. The way he prepares. The way he is on the field. The way he is as a person. That lends itself to being successful.”

He could have stayed in Ottawa, where the path to the Grey Cup is less complicated and the 18-game season itself is less of a grind. Instead, at 33, Harris opted to throw himself into the belly of the beast and try to fight his way out with his new teammates.

As his first season in Edmonton’s Green and Gold kicks off, Harris will get the greatest challenge of his career. Last year’s Esks team won nine games — one more than Ottawa’s Grey Cup-winning squad in 2016 — and missed the playoffs.

But if Harris can lead Edmonton back into the playoffs and maybe down the QEII to Calgary for a shot at its 15th Grey Cup, it could become the stuff of legend. It’d be the stuff that the guys after him would talk about for years to come.