Friday, June 14, 2024

Redblacks’ Tobias Harris goes distance as both DB and returner

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“Whatever is going to make the team win and keep going, that’s what I am here. It’s whatever they need me to be.”

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There can be no confusing the Ottawa Redblacks’ Tobias Harris with the Tobias Harris who’s a power forward for the Philadelphia 76ers.

For one thing, at 5-9, the Redblacks’ Harris is 11 inches shorter.

And where the Sixers’ Harris was incredibly shut out in 29 minutes of court time during the team’s season ending 118-115 playoff loss to the New York Knicks last month, the Redblacks’ defensive back actually scores.

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He did it with a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Toronto Argonauts in the Redblacks’ last road game of 2023, and he one-upped himself Friday night at TD Place with a 101-yard pick-six in the Canadian Football League team’s pre-season finale against the Montreal Alouettes.

The long third-quarter intercept return not only proved to be the game-winning score in Ottawa’s 19-13 victory, but it was also the only TD of the night until Alouettes backup QB James Morgan pushed over the line from one yard out with three minutes left on the clock.

“It sure felt like 101 yards, I’ll tell you that,” Harris said in the Redblacks’ locker room. “It’s just a little bit of what we can do here in Ottawa. It’s very exciting to see the defence play all together. Same band, the same sound. I just made a small play. A lot of people within the play kind of helped me by getting to the quarterback, making him throw a bad ball, blockers coming for me. I just ran the ball. Everybody did a big part. I just so happen to get the glory for it.”

Four snaps earlier, Harris had been called on a 36-yard pass interference penalty that moved the ball from Montreal’s 32-yard line to Ottawa’s 42.

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Good way to redeem yourself, Tobias?

“Hello,” he said.

Was it a bad call?

“I ain’t trying to dog the ref,” Harris said with a laugh. “At the end of the day, I would say I just need to be better at tracking the ball. I’m thinking it’s a corner something, he’s just going to throw it to the sidelines. (The receiver) is running and he stops, and I grab … I’ve just got to play it, look at the ball and trust my instincts. If I do that, I’m not gonna get the PI. But sometimes we fall short. Better things to come.”

Harris, who played 10 games with the Redblacks last season, was a bit of a ballhawk in college. In his last two seasons, 2021 with West Texas A&M and 2022 with Old Dominion, he had seven picks in 21 games.

He brought two of them all the way back to the house.

“It’s definitely exciting,” the 24-year-old said. “But, like I told someone earlier, this just feels like home. I’ve been doing this since high school. So, for me, it just feels like I’m back doing what I’m supposed to do: making plays.”

Asked if the 101-yarder was the longest of his life, Harris replied: “Oh yeah. I could feel it, too. After the 30, I was like, ‘Damn! Is this field still going?’”

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With head coach Bob Dyce and his staff making final cuts on Saturday, it was quite likely the TD cemented Harris a spot on the team as a backup DB and a return specialist to sub in when needed for the electrifying Devonte Dedmon.

“Honestly, whatever the team needs me to be,” Harris said when asked where he saw himself fitting in with Ottawa. “If they need me to return, I’m a returner. If they need me to play strong half, I’m a strong half. If they need me to fill up waters, I’m a water boy. Whatever is going to make the team win and keep going, that’s what I am here. It’s whatever they need me to be.”

Tobias Harris Ottawa Redblacks
Redblacks returner Tobias Harris tries to outrun Roughriders players during a CFL game at Regina in August 2023. Photo by Heywood Yu /The Canadian Press

He’s been a very good return guy since at least his earliest days at West Texas A&M, scoring on a kickoff return in 2018 and on both a kickoff return and a punt return in 2019.

“I love it,” he said of that role. “I  love having a ball in my hands. Any time I can affect the game. I just love being a returner. It’s an exciting part.

“And, being in the CFL, where I don’t have to worry about how someone’s gonna smoke me on the play, like I just worry about catching the ball, where in the States, I’m worried about fair catching and hoping someone sees (the signal).

“I love that part. It’s what makes the CFL exciting.”

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