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OTTAWA — Despite the lingering taste of Sunday’s bitter Grey Cup defeat, the Ottawa REDBLACKS have no problem putting things into perspective when it comes to their 2018 season.
It was a year of progress for Head Coach Rick Campbell’s team, marked by an 11-win season, a division title and a third Grey Cup appearance in the last four seasons.
Even after a 27-16 loss in the 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw, all is not lost in the nation’s capital.
“We were healthy, we had a great dynamic of young and veteran guys,” said General Manager Marcel Desjardins. “You’re always looking to get better across the board but I thought we were in a very good place and that showed by the fact that we were in the championship game.”
“It’s hard because of how much we’ve put into this,” said quarterback Trevor Harris. “But I think as the dust settles and we reflect on the season we can see the strides we made as a team and an organization. I think we’re setting ourselves up for quite a run in the future if we can keep the band together.”
How much of the band can return remains to be seen — in the age of free agency, it won’t be all of it. Some very familiar faces to R-Nation could be missing when it comes time for training camp next April.
What’s expected to be a long list of free agents across the league along with an expiring collective bargaining agreement could lead to even more movement than usual.
Still, Desjardins is wasting no time getting to work.
“At the end of the day I’m still going to move forward and try to get some guys to sign prior to anything being ratified, and I’m hoping to get as many of those guys done as possible,” he said. “If guys that we want back are willing to sign contracts now then that’s something we’re very interested in getting done.”
One player that could sign sooner rather than later is the quarterback. Harris is one of several star pivots reportedly slated for free agency this season, but all arrows point to an extension being done.
Despite throwing three interceptions in the Grey Cup, Harris has enjoyed his best professional season, throwing for 5,116 yards and 22 touchdowns. He set a CFL playoff record with six touchdown passes in the Eastern Final, a win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Harris’ continued progress and apparent fit with Jaime Elizondo’s offence make his return to Ottawa a no-brainer.
“I certainly think he’s evolved as a quarterback and as a leader, and he’d be the first to say that,” said Desjardins. “He’s done a lot of great things for us and I certainly anticipate that he will continue to do great things for us in the future.”
“We talk amongst the players how we’d love to stay together,” said Harris. “We’re on the cusp this year. I think if we play [the Stampeders] 10 times we see a couple different results, but they were better than us — credit to them, they beat us.
“Keeping this thing together is vital for myself,” he added. “I love these guys, I love this team. I think we made some strides. I think we can go on quite a run here if we can keep this together and if that means sacrificing certain things then we’ve got to do it.
“When I hear my alarm clock go off in the off-season to wake up and work out, what’s going to drive me is thinking about Brad Sinopoli and Alex Mateas and [SirVincent Rogers] and [Greg Ellingson] and being the best quarterback I can be for them. That’s what makes me get out of bed and put in the extra time and extra reps and put in the six, seven, eight hours a day during the off-season to get better.”
Harris says Sunday’s loss still stings, and will be on his mind all off-season. The REDBLACKS’ quarterback, who has succeeded the legendary Henry Burris, threw for 288 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in the Grey Cup, completing 20 of 38 passes in a losing effort against Calgary.
“I’ve had dreams both nights I went to sleep that it was halftime again, and I got insanely overjoyed because I was like, ‘man, 10 points is nothing, we’re going to come back and win this’,” he said. “Both times I woke up it hurt worse. I’m assuming I’ll continue to have dreams like that. It hurts because it means so much. If it didn’t hurt right know, you’d be questioning your commitment.
“I’m grateful, I’m blessed, I’m happy to be a part of this. I really feel like I’m coming into my own and I think this team is too. It was a heck of a ride this year but it doesn’t take away from the sting, because it’s gutting.”
– With files from OttawaREDBLACKS.com