OTTAWA — Trevor Harris won’t call the Redblacks his team, but much of Ottawa’s success or failure this season will fall at his feet.
The 30-year-old Harris will be a starting quarterback for the first time in his professional career as Ottawa chases its second straight Grey Cup title.
Harris, who is in his second season with the Redblacks, has played a significant role for a CFL team before, but there was always a veteran pivot waiting in the wings to take over. First it was Ricky Ray in Toronto, and last season it was Henry Burris.
Now it’s all up to Harris.
“If stuff goes wrong it’s blamed on the head coach the (offensive) co-ordinator and the QB,” said Harris. “It’s a lot different, but I didn’t know it would feel this different because it’s been so long since I’ve been the guy going into a camp.
“I’ve taken the experiences from working with all those other guys and I’m just trying to add new things to my bag and trying to become the best player I can be and now we’ll see if it’s enough.”
There is already a comfort and confidence level between Harris and the players. He had great success early on last season before he suffered a leg injury and was replaced by Burris.
“The biggest trait a quarterback can have is that the team thinks they have a chance to win with a guy, and everyone around here believes we can win with Trevor,” said head coach Rick Campbell. “Trevor is a very steady guy and he doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He’s a guy that leads by what he does on the field and his work ethic and I know the guys respect that.”
The Redblacks have lost significant contributors to its offence with the departure of receivers Chris Williams and Ernest Jackson, but they are confident Kenny Shaw and Diontae Spencer, who both played in Toronto with Harris, will be solid additions. Harris is also confident that at some point of the season receiver Josh Stangby will garner some attention.
With so much of the communication in football being non-verbal, Harris’s familiarity with his receivers should go a long way in establishing success for the Redblacks offence.
“I’ve told them we just need to worry about what we’re good at,” Harris said. “We all just need to rely on our strengths, rely on each other and lean on one another and do this thing as a team and I think it’s going to work out really well.”
While Spencer and Shaw will be the new faces, veterans Brad Sinopoli and Greg Ellingson will be counted on for their consistency and leadership.
Ellingson, who signed a two-year extension in the off-season, believes the Redblacks will be just as competitive and is anxious to silence the early critics.
“I listen to people talking on the panel and they talk about how Hamilton’s the favourite in the East so I feel like Ottawa has a chip on it’s shoulder because no one gives us credit and that just adds fuel to fire,” said Ellingson. “Everybody has their own motivation and that’s part of mine along with other things. I’m ready to be back and I’m ready to show the CFL that Ottawa is a force to be reckoned with for seasons to come.”
Defensively the Redblacks will be without halfback Abdul Kanneh, who signed with Hamilton, as well as linebacker Damaso Munoz. They added Khalil Bass, who had 82 defensive tackles with Winnipeg last season, to working alongside Taylor Reed and Jerrel Gavins.
The Redblacks come in as defending champions and will host the Championship game this season, but say they can’t get caught up in any hype.
“This is a new version of the Redblacks and we’re trying to evolve and be a better team than we were last year,” said Campbell. “If you ever just think that you can maintain and be the same that’s not the way to go about it, so we’re trying to evolve and trying to improve.
“If you look too far down the road you might trip on what’s ahead of you.”
Ottawa will open the season June 23 with a home-and-home series against the Calgary Stampeders.