Move to Winnipeg gives Bombers’ Harris chance to be a full-time dad

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

WINNIPEG — Little girls often don’t like to share daddy-daughter time, but that’s not the case when Andrew Harris is out with nine-year-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 schoolwork.

Harris is now paying that guidance and support forward.

He helps out youth football teams and even 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 after-school 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. I still feel great physically and I feel even better mentally."