'No shortcut:' Trevor Harris and his winding road to Grey Cup starting quarterback

EDMONTON — Trevor Harris describes it like being in a washing machine.

His path from a tiny college in a tiny town in Pennsylvania to starting quarterback for the CFL's Ottawa Redblacks in Sunday's Grey Cup has been anything but delicate.

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The spin cycle involved labour strife, delinquent teams and stops barely long enough to unpack.

"It's been very challenging," Harris said Thursday as he reflected on his career.

"I was thrown around every which way, but when I got out of it, I was able to stand up, stand tall and say I can still do this and I still believe in myself."

Harris was a star for the Edinboro University Fighting Scots, a small Division 2 school in Edinboro, Penn., population 6,500.

He set every passing record at the school while playing from 2006-2009 and was a four-time all-PSAC West selection.

His former coach in Edinboro, Scott Browning, remembers a kid who was focused and driven.

"His fun on a Friday night was to get a whole bunch of guys together and see who could drink a gallon of milk," Browning said from his home in Maryland.

Browning said he would often get a call from Harris on Friday nights pestering him to open the gym first thing Saturday morning. Harris would collect teammates' cell numbers, Browning recalled, and would text them inspirational phrases everyday in the off season.

Coming out of university things were looking up for Harris.

He signed as a free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL in 2010 and made it to the final round of cuts.

That's when the fun began.

Harris has got the story so well rehearsed he can tell it in about a minute.

From Jacksonville it was off to Arizona and a job playing with the Rattlers in the Arena Football League.

Midway through that season, however, he got picked up by the Hartford Colonials of the United Football League. He went there only to see that team fold nine days into their 2011 campaign, so it was back to Arizona.

A couple of weeks later he got picked up by the Buffalo Bills, but the NFL was having labour issues that off season.

"Because of the rules of the lockout, I couldn't report by a certain date and 36 hours after the Bills signed me, they rescinded my contract," Harris recalled.

Back in Arizona, he finished the season and then got opportunity with the Sacramento Mountain Lions, again in the UFL.

"The season got cut short in Week 5 of 8, because they couldn't pay the players."

He went back to the AFL with the Orlando Predators in 2012.

"We're going to the first game and they release all the players and play with a replacement team because they thought the players were going to strike," he said.

He got offered the offensive co-ordinator job back in Edinboro and it was tempting, Harris recalled. His brother still had two years left with the school and Harris would have been his coach.

"At that point I was like: 'Man, this deal is just throwing me around every which way. There's no stability.' Coaching would have given me that stability," Harris said.

He credits divine intervention for taking one more shot at playing in the CFL.

"He just had to find the right place," said Browning.

He signed with the Toronto Argonauts to back up future hall-of-famer Ricky Ray.

He started 16 games for the Argos in 2015 as Ray recovered from an injury. Ottawa signed him in 2016, but again he fell behind another CFL legend on the depth chart, Henry Burris.

He and Burris split time starting that season as they both battled injuries and dealt with benchings. Ottawa made it all the way to the Grey Cup.

It looked like Harris would be pressed into starting the championship when Burris's knee locked up pre-game. But the veteran recovered in time for kickoff and Harris watched from the sidelines as his team won.

"It was something else, that's for sure," he said. "I was an up-and-down, roller-coaster type of day."

Harris enters Sunday's big game as the undisputed starter with 5,116 and 22 touchdowns against 11 interceptions in 17 regular-season games.

His six passing touchdowns against Hamilton in the Western final last week were a playoff record.

Harris's fellow players credit his poise in the huddle and his smarts on the field as the keys to his success.

"He's got swagger. He's got confidence in himself," said wideout Diontae Spencer. "When you have those types of traits as a quarterback, only good things can happen."

Receiver Dominique Rhymes said Harris knows where everyone should be on every play.

"He's like an extra coach out there," Rhymes said.

In fact, coaching is something Harris, 32, sees himself doing when he's done his playing career. It almost drew him in once — he's sure it is where he will end up.

"I really enjoy the game of football and I really enjoy helping young men," Harris said. "It's something I feel I have been called to do."

But that's down the road for this journeyman.

Now, he's looking to win a Grey Cup on Sunday — under centre this time, not on the sidelines.

In Edinboro, they will be watching. Browning, who still stays in touch with Harris, said he is making the six-hour drive back to watch the game at a local establishment with friends.

"He is going to be the most prepared player on that field on Sunday," Browning said.

"There was no shortcut for Trevor."

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