CFL Pass

Six Bombers get divisional All-Star Nod

The boulder-sized chip that has been forever planted on the shoulder of Andrew Harris grew a bit larger on Wednesday with the unveiling of the Canadian Football League’s West Division All-Star Team.

Check that… that chip appears to have a least doubled or tripled in size.

The West All-Star squad featured six Winnipeg Blue Bombers – including Harris, who won his third consecutive CFL rushing title this year – along with left tackle Stanley Bryant, defensive end Willie Jefferson, defensive back Marcus Sayles, cornerback Winston Rose and fullback Mike Miller, selected as the top special teams player in the division.

Yet it was the all-star selection of Harris following his exclusion from the ballot for both the Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian and Most Outstanding Player that effectively re-ignited the debate about his eligibility following his two-game suspension after trace amounts of a banned substance were found in a random drug test in early July.

On the all-star selection – the sixth divisional honour of his career – Harris said, “Big kudos to my teammates, coaches, family. I’m just a product of my environment and the people around me.”

And when that question was followed up with another asking ‘how big a deal it was’ that he didn’t get enough votes for Most Outstanding Player or Canadian Player, Harris quickly replied “talk to these guys (some of the media who voted)” before ducking down to grab a pair of gloves at his feet and then squeezing through the throng of press around him and exiting.

Harris has spent a career fighting the odds, first as a player cracking the roster of the B.C. Lions after coming from the junior ranks, to morphing into a starting running back at a time when Canadian ball carriers were still a rarity. Since then, he has built on that legacy as a future hall of famer.

But he’s also always referenced the chip that keeps him hungry even given his accomplishments. As a result, the Harris that takes to the field in Calgary for Sunday’s Western Semi-Final against the Stampeders could be even hungrier.

“I don’t know that he needs anything more,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea when asked about Harris. “I’m disappointed he wasn’t nominated for the West (Outstanding Player/Canadian), but Andrew is so good he finds a way to bring it every single day.”

O’Shea was one of the five local voters for the Most Outstanding Player Awards, which included four members of The Football Reporters of Canada. The West All-Star Team was also voted on by members in each chapter of the FRC in the division.

O’Shea said he voted for Harris, and added: “I’ve gone on record saying I believe (being caught for use of a banned substance) was accidental. I’ll say it again.

“I also firmly believe that there’s a process in place and in the middle of the process is not the time to try and change it. That’s what the offseason is for if you want to get something changed like that. In the middle of the season and the middle of a process that’s going on… you voice that in the offseason and change the process then, not during the season.”

That debate aside, the rest of the Bombers all-stars featured two other players who have been named before in Bryant and Jefferson, and three who were honoured for the first time in their careers in Rose, Sayles and Miller.

“It means a lot,” said Rose. “First and foremost I’d like to give thanks to God, my teammates and my coaches for allowing me to be myself. And my teammates for putting pressure on the quarterback to let me get the interceptions and just play my game. I love where I’m at right now. I love everything about Winnipeg. They let me be who I am and it reflects.”

Miller, meanwhile, earned his nod for another solid season on special teams.

“It’s awesome. It’s the first of my career so that’s a pretty cool accomplishment,” said Miller. “I couldn’t have done it without all the guys in the locker room, all the guys on special teams. We’ve got a great group of guys in there and it definitely makes it easier.”

Andrew Harris, Running Back

His 2019 season, in brief: Harris became the first Bombers running back in franchise history to capture three straight rushing titles. His 1,380 yards was just 10 shy of his career best – set last year in two more games – and he added a team-high 70 receptions for 529 yards. All told, he had five 100-yard rushing games and eight TDs in a spectacular regular season.

Stanley Bryant, Left Tackle

His 2019 season, in brief: Still dominant. Still consistent. Still durable. The two-time reigning CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman got it done game in and game out with three different guards lining up beside him this year in Cody Speller, Drew Desjarlais and Pat Neufeld. He was part of an offensive line that helped the Bombers not only lead the CFL in rushing, but post the highest rushing total in these parts dating back to 1976.

And for a position group that always battles with an assortment of hurts, consider this: Bryant has not missed a single game since joining the Bombers in 2015.

Willie Jefferson, Defensive End

His 2019 season, in brief: Forget that there was the odd game in which he was held off the stats sheet, because there wasn’t a week in which he wasn’t a difference maker on the field as opposition offences had to game plan against him. Set a new CFL record for pass knockdowns by a defensive lineman with 16 – best in the league. Also led the CFL with six forced fumbles, topped the Bombers with 12 sacks and added 24 tackles, an interception and two fumble recoveries.

Marcus Sayles, Defensive Back

His 2019 season, in brief: Followed up a solid first year when he was named the Bombers top rookie with an even better sophomore season. Lining up at the halfback position, Sayles was a steady force in the secondary and finished with 66 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. An adept kick blocker dating back to his days in college, Sayles tied for the CFL lead in that department with two.

Winston Rose, Cornerback

His 2019 season, in brief: Looking back now given his accomplishments, Rose’s addition in February in free agency mostly flew under the radar. He had tied for the CFL lead with five interceptions a year ago while with the B.C. Lions, but was caught in the purge of a regime change on the west coast.

Rose quickly found a home with the Bombers and earned his first divisional all-star honour by leading the CFL with nine interceptions, the highest total by a Bomber player since Less Browne had 10 in 1991. Rose also had 58 tackles and a fumble recovery.

Mike Miller, Fullback/Special Teams

His 2019 season, in brief: This is certainly as much a nod for his work in 2019 as it is for what the veteran has accomplished in a career as a foot soldier on special teams. Miller earned his first divisional all-star honour after finishing tied for second in the CFL with 25 special teams tackles, and in the process, moved into second place on the league’s all-time list in that category with 185 – just five back of Jason Arakgi, who had 190 during his career.