EDMONTON — Trevor Harris has stepped in to fill some pretty big shoes during his first seven seasons as a quarterback in the CFL, so taking over from Mike Reilly as the Edmonton Eskimos‘ starter for the 2019 season is nothing new.
Playing behind Ricky Ray with the Toronto Argonauts and Henry Burris for a time during three seasons with the Ottawa Redblacks before signing with Edmonton as a free agent in February, Harris knows about having tough acts to follow.
"I focus on leading my teammates, loving my teammates and doing everything I can do to be the best guy I can be for them," Harris said. "We’ve just got to make sure we do everything we can to wrap our arms around each other and grow together and we’ll maximize our potential."
With former most outstanding player Reilly signing with the B.C. Lions as a free agent this off-season, Harris takes his place with the Eskimos, who missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons in 2018.
In 17 games with the 11-7 Redblacks, Harris passed for 5,116 yards and 22 touchdowns. He threw for a CFL record six TD’s against Hamilton in the Eastern final on the way to a 27-16 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in the 106th Grey Cup at Commonwealth Stadium, the place he now calls home.
"I think to play quarterback there’s four attributes you need to have," head coach Jason Maas said. "You need to be smart, and Trevor is. Everybody that I’ve been around that’s been really successful, puts the time in and Trevor is one of those guys. He’ll understand our offence as well as anybody on our team — he’s been in this offence for eight years. That’s a lot of experience.
"He’s accurate. We did a thing last night, and at a minimum of 100 attempts, he’s the most accurate quarterback in the history of the CFL, so he completes balls. You’ve got to be tough, mentally and physically tough, and I think Trevor is that.
"The last thing is consistency. With Trevor, I see consistency every day. The way he prepares. The way he is on the field. The way he is as a person. That lends itself to being successful."
When Harris couldn’t strike a new deal with the Redblacks, he signed a two-year deal with the Eskimos, who were faced with replacing the popular and prolific Reilly. Reilly returned to B.C., where his CFL career began, after six seasons in Edmonton — the last three with 5,000-plus passing yards.
As things shook out, it wasn’t a tough call for Harris, who has a career completion percentage of 70.4, to come to Edmonton. Maas was his quarterback coach in Toronto. GM Brock Sunderland was an assistant GM during his time in Ottawa.
"You can say it doesn’t make it easier, but it did," Harris said. "Knowing Brock Sunderland was here, the guy who brought in a lot of the talent in Ottawa. He’s an architect who has put together some tremendous rosters. Look at the roster Edmonton had last year.
"Jason Maas is a guy I have a tremendous amount of respect for. He was my first-ever quarterback coach in this league. I started learning my basics from Jason."
Sunderland signed two of Harris’ teammates from Ottawa the first day of free agency. Greg Ellingson, who has four straight seasons of 1,000-plus yards receiving, will bolster a pass-catching corps that will be without Duke Williams, who led the CFL last season with 1,579 receiving yards, Derel Walker and Bryant Mitchell.
"Talking to Brock and Maas in the off-season when they were trying to get me to come here, the emphasis they had was on winning and that’s something in Ottawa we did a good job with the last three or four years," Ellingson said.
"If you just look at the stats sheets, his completions, Trevor is one of the most accurate guys in the league in the history of the CFL. Besides that, just knowing him, it’s his preparation. He prepares like no other. He’s a leader in that aspect. He set that example for me, too. It made me push harder to prepare better."
Up front, all-star offensive left tackle SirVincent Rogers, voted the CFL’s outstanding lineman in 2015, is with the Eskimos.
"Really, it’s just about that comfort level," Harris said. "Having Greg and SirV here, I know that I have a tremendous receiver out there who is going to make plays and make me look good and I know that I don’t have to worry about my blindside ever.
"Brock has done an outstanding job or not only putting together roster here in terms of talent, but he’s put good people in this locker room. That’s how you win in this league. You win with good people.
"They believe in me. I’m excited about it. My main focus every day is earning a roster spot, but I want to prove them right and I plan on doing that."