February 26, 2023

Vanstone: Harris aims to grow culture with Riders


Trevor Harris found the receiver shortly after the 2010 National Football League draft. 

By simply picking up the phone, he was embarking on a professional football career that continues to this day. 

Despite setting a scroll of passing records while playing NCAA Division II football for the Pennsylvania-based Edinboro Fighting Scots, Harris was bypassed in the NFL lottery. 

However, his excellence as a collegian was far from unnoticed. Minutes after the 255th and final pick was made, he was contacted by the Jacksonville Jaguars. A free-agent deal was summarily signed. 

As a Jaguar, Harris completed 14 of 21 passes for 116 yards over two pre-season games before being released. 

He signed with the Arena Football League’s Arizona Rattlers in November of 2010 and the United Football League’s Hartford Colonials the following July — not even a fortnight after receiving overtures from the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. 

“I woke up and looked at my phone and I had 36 missed calls — 33 from my agent and three from my mom,” Harris says with a chuckle.  

“My agent said, ‘Trev, the Bills are offering you a contract. They need to know if you’ll commit to them.’ I was like, ‘Oh, of course. Let’s do this,’ so they booked my flight and I was going to go out there for training camp.” 

Or so he thought. 

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A technicality arising from an NFL lockout – the labour dispute concluded on July 25, 2011 – prevented Harris from ever making it to Buffalo. 

“They called me back and said, ‘You were in Jacksonville last year, right?’ ” Harris says. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ They said, ‘All right, you’re not considered a rookie so we can’t bring you out until Aug. 9. We’re not going to have you sign that contract yet. We’re going to cancel it. Just hang tight. We’ll bring you out on the ninth. No problem.’ 

“About five or six days went by. Then they called back and said, ‘We might not have room for you in training camp, but hang tight. We’re going to bring you out on this date.’ I was like, ‘I know what’s going on …’ 

“It never ended up happening. The rules from the lockout, with certain rookies not being able to report until a certain date, kind of hung it up. 

“But God ordains everything for a reason and I’m thankful for all those moments.” 

Spend any time with Harris and the strength of his faith becomes evident. 

“I grew up in the church, but we went to church on Easter and at Christmas and just every once in a while on Sunday,” he recalls.  

“But when I got to college, I realized, ‘I need to take ownership of my faith journey if this is something I’m going to do.’ I’m an all-in-or-not-in type of person.” 

Harris has been all-in, faith-wise, without interruption for more than a decade — one in which he has married his high school sweetheart, become a father, and established himself as a premier passer. 

“I treat football like it’s the most important thing, but my faith and my family are the most important things in my life,” he says. “It has always been the backbone of my life and my wife’s life as well.” 

Harris and his wife, Kallie, upon their arrival in Regina on Feb. 14, 2023 (Riderville.com)

Harris has known the former Kalie Denton since they were teenagers. 

“She actually went to a different high school,” notes Harris, who attended Pleasant High School in Ohio’s Marion County. “After I graduated, she actually transferred to Pleasant because her aunt was the high school volleyball coach.” 

In fact, Kalie earned Central District volleyball player-of-the-year honours as a senior with the 2006-2007 Pleasant Spartans. 

“We dated for 2.5 years,” Harris continues. “We were the real-life Notebook story. We split up for seven years. She got engaged and I was dealing with the ‘it’s still not over’ sort of thing.’ 

“I used to check in with her every three or four months, just to see how she was doing, because she was always on my mind. I always just knew that I was chasing how I felt about her. I was just checking in on her and being a friend to her. 

“Then, one day, she messaged me  and asked me about my niece. I was like, ‘Could it be …?’  

“A few weeks later, we were just texting and she asked if we could hang out — just as friends, of course. I was like, ‘Of course, of course …’ 

“Fast forward about 2.5 months from there and we were engaged. Fast forward six months and we were married. Now, at 7.5 years, we’re still married with two kids and a third on the way.” 

Kalie is due in late May — so the possibility exists that the couple’s third child will be born on Trevor’s 37th birthday (May 31), joining siblings T.J. (Trenton James recently celebrated his sixth birthday) and Trace Thomas (who turns three on March 3). 

The life of a pro football player, while enriching in myriad ways, is not conducive to stability. Consider the fact Harris has joined four different CFL teams during the lifespan of his eldest son. 

The routine was well-established much earlier, as Harris spent time with 11 different teams in four different leagues, dating back to that initial stint in Jacksonville. 

In addition to the tryout with the Jaguars, Harris spent time in the Arena Football League (with the Arizona Rattlers and Orlando Predators) and United Football League (Sacramento Mountain Lions, Hartford Colonials) before signing a three-year contract with the Toronto Argonauts in April of 2012. 

While Harris was becoming acclimatized to a new league in a foreign country, his parents — Tom and Suzanne — were seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. 

“My dad had 75 stitches in his face and fractured his neck and back,” Harris recalls. “My mom broke her ankle severely and had a broken orbital bone. 

“They got life-lighted (by air ambulance) and seeing them not only fight for their lives, but also fighting for their businesses to be successful in who they are, has been a great example for me. 

“It was my rookie year in the CFL. I got the call and I told them that I was coming home and I was done. I was like, ‘This football is not that important, because it’s not more important than my family.’ Although I treat football like it’s the most important thing, it’s not more important than my family or more important than my faith. 

“I told my dad, ‘I’m coming home. I’m going to make sure you guys are taken care of. This football stuff’s not that big of a deal.’ 

“He couldn’t really say a bunch of words. All he said was, ‘If you come home, I’m going to make your face look like mine’ — and he had 75 stitches in his face. 

“My dad’s a tough dude. He used to box prisoners for fun. On Wednesday nights, he’d go to the local prison when it was allowed in Ohio.  

“So when he said what he did, I said, ‘All right. I’ll stay here.’ ” 

Harris’ football journey and his CFL longevity are linked to his tremendous work ethic and the time he puts in at the gym (Riderville.com)

Harris was used sparingly until early in the 2015 season, when a rotator-cuff injury sidelined Argonauts teammate Ricky Ray — a future Canadian Football Hall of Famer. 

Then 29, Harris seized the opportunity, throwing for 4,354 yards and a league-high 33 touchdowns in 2015. 

He spent the subsequent three seasons with the Ottawa REDBLACKS, helping them win a Grey Cup in 2016 and establishing a post-season record two years later. 

On Nov. 18, 2018, Harris threw six touchdown passes as Ottawa defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 46-27 in the Eastern Semi-Final. The previous CFL single-game playoff record of five TD passes had been shared by seven players, including Hall of Fame pivots Bernie Faloney (1961), Ron Lancaster (1963) and Anthony Calvillo (2009). 

Over three seasons in Ottawa, Harris threw for 13,096 yards and 68 touchdowns, with just 28 interceptions. Included were single-season totals of 30 TD passes (2017) and a career-high 5,116 aerial yards (2018). 

The Edmonton Elks took notice, signing Harris as a free agent in February of 2019. He remained in the Alberta capital until being traded to Montreal on Oct. 27, 2021. 

Last year, in his first full season with the Alouettes, he threw for 4,157 yards and 20 touchdowns while posting an impressive quarterback-efficiency rating (102.9). 

Harris played what turned out to be his final game as an Alouette on Nov. 13, when the host Argonauts prevailed 34-27 in the Eastern Final.  

Over the course of two playoff games with the 2022 Alouettes, Harris completed 52 of 64 passes — an 81.3 per cent accuracy rate — for 605 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. 

Now the priority is to take the next step with Saskatchewan and, ideally, lead the Green and White to its fifth Grey Cup championship. 

“I’ve never been in the business of promising wins,” Harris says. “I can promise (the fans) that they’re going to get a team that’s united, that loves one another, that’s giving all-out effort. We’re going to have a culture of loving one another, of good brotherhood, and of making sure that we’re giving everything we can to what we do.

“The goal is to make sure that this organization, this province, this fan base is proud of this team on opening day, on Labour Day and (the re-match) and, most importantly, on that third Sunday in November.”

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