Fam­ily ties

Move to Winnipeg gives run­ning back Har­ris chance to be a full-time dad

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JUDY OWEN

Lit­tle girls of­ten don’t like to share daddy-daugh­ter time, but that’s not the case when Andrew Har­ris is out with nineyear-old Hazel.

When fans come up to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers run­ning back to say hello or get his au­to­graph, his daugh­ter gets a kick out of the at­ten­tion.

“She en­joys it. She thinks I’m the big­gest star in the world, which is amaz­ing,” Har­ris said re­cently with a chuckle.

“It’s a great feel­ing to have your daugh­ter look up to you like that and know you’ve done some­thing in your life.”

Har­ris is at a good place in his pro­fes­sional and per­sonal life. For the first time in a decade, he got to spend a full year in his home­town af­ter sign­ing as a free agent with the Bombers last year.

What the run­ning back has ap­pre­ci­ated the most is more time with Hazel, whom he co-par­ents with his for­mer girl­friend.

“My daugh­ter has def­i­nitely been the big­gest in­flu­ence on where I’m at to­day and who I am to­day,” said Har­ris, who’s get­ting ready to re­port for train­ing camp on May 26.

“I don’t know where I would be or if I would have even made it if I didn’t have her in my life at such a young age.”

Har­ris, 30, left Winnipeg af­ter high school to play for the Van­cou­ver Is­land Raiders of the Cana­dian Ju­nior Foot­ball League.

Hazel was born in 2008, and the young fam­ily lived in Nanaimo while Har­ris played foot­ball and worked. The cou­ple split up the fol­low­ing year, and Hazel and her mom moved back to Winnipeg.

Af­ter start­ing his CFL ca­reer with the B.C. Lions in 2010, Har­ris was de­ter­mined to pro­vide for Hazel fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally. He al­ways re­turned to Winnipeg in the off-sea­son to be with her.

That de­sire to be a sup­port­ive par­ent was in­flu­enced by his up­bring­ing. His fa­ther wasn’t part of his life grow­ing up, and he and his mother some­times strug­gled fi­nan­cially. It was one of the rea­sons he gave up play­ing hockey and fo­cused on foot­ball.

But things didn’t al­ways go smoothly off the grid­iron.

While liv­ing in Stein­bach, Man., Har­ris was re­cruited by head foot­ball coach Stu Nixon to play for Grant Park High School in Winnipeg. How­ever, be­fore Har­ris ar­rived for Grade 10, Nixon left to coach the Oak Park High School squad.

Har­ris said he ex­celled on the field, but off of it he be­gan hang­ing out with the wrong crowd, skip­ping classes and par­ty­ing too much.

Nixon en­cour­aged him to trans­fer to Oak Park for his se­nior year and had a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence on his foot­work and school work.

Har­ris is now pay­ing that guid­ance and sup­port for­ward.

He helps out youth foot­ball teams and started a pro­gram last sea­son called Har­ris’ Heroes, which re­wards youth groups with tick­ets to a Bombers game.

One lo­cal high school hockey team was rec­og­nized for an af­ter­school pro­gram they started to teach kids how to skate, in­clud­ing do­nat­ing some of their old equip­ment.

“A lot of peo­ple over­look lit­tle things that or­ga­ni­za­tions do, es­pe­cially youth or­ga­ni­za­tions,” Har­ris said.

“When a group of kids or a team is do­ing some­thing spe­cial in the com­mu­nity, it’s an op­por­tu­nity to give back to them and re­ward them and just to be able to meet them and shake their hands and just say they’re do­ing a great job.”

Har­ris’s team­mates voted him as the re­cip­i­ent of last year’s Cal Mur­phy Heart of the Le­gend Award for his sports­man­ship and ded­i­ca­tion to the com­mu­nity and league. He was the team’s nom­i­nee for the CFL Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion Tom Pate Me­mo­rial Award, which hon­ours sim­i­lar qual­i­ties.

His per­sonal life also took an­other pos­i­tive turn about three years ago when he fi­nally met his bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther and some step­broth­ers. He re­cently went to visit his dad in B.C.

Be­ing a good par­ent and role model is some­thing he doesn’t take lightly.

“Even her mom, she just won na­tion­als in a bikini body­build­ing com­pe­ti­tion (in early May),” Har­ris said. “She def­i­nitely has great role mod­els.”

As for his goals on the field this sea­son, Har­ris said he be­lieves the team will be im­proved now that they’ve had one sea­son to­gether.

And even though he’s reached the mile­stone age of 30, he doesn’t think he’s slowed down.

“The age part is a num­ber,” said Har­ris, who fin­ished third in the league in rush­ing last sea­son with 974 yards de­spite miss­ing three games.

“It’s all how you train, it’s all how you pre­pare and it’s all how you at­tack the game,” he said. “I still feel great phys­i­cally and I feel even bet­ter men­tally.”

CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Blue Bombers run­ning back Andrew Har­ris and his daugh­ter Hazel fly a kite at Assini­boine Park in Winnipeg on the week­end.

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