Disc In: A Chat with Cam Harris

July 17, 2020
By Evan Lepler - "Disc In" Interview Series Archive

In the eight-year history of the AUDL, there are six players who have caught 250 goals, six players who have amassed 250 assists, and 19 players who have recorded at least 100 blocks. Just three competitors can claim residence in two of the three groups, and remarkably there’s only one individual who sits comfortably in all three of these clubs.

Obviously, the headline of the article gives away the identify of today’s featured player, who resides in his own stratosphere of statistical success among the AUDL’s all-time greats, even if he’s perfectly fine letting others take the credit. Cam Harris of the Toronto Rush is a versatile and powerful force on the field, with the athleticism to sky for scores, the throws to flummox his foes, and the awareness to take over games, which he’s done many times in his 103 career appearances, tied for seventh most all-time. Though the numbers speak for themselves, his teammates will relentlessly harp on the belief that he never has received enough attention for his all-encompassing abilities, and the reality is they are probably right.

Often overshadowed by standout teammates, Harris has flourished as the Rush’s overlooked superstar during his seven superb AUDL seasons, in which he’s accumulated 301 assists, 258 goals, and 109 blocks. Among Toronto insiders, there’s been a long-time joke that Harris is the most talented all-around player in the city, but the spotlight has usually shined, for one reason or another, on one of the other main men. Of course, Harris never seems to have a problem with this dynamic, content to stay relatively under the radar in his pursuit of excellence.

The preeminent testament of Harris’ greatness is probably Toronto’s tremendous track record of winning, specifically that the Rush are 94-19 all-time and have never missed the playoffs. Averaging more than 14 games played per year, including the postseason, Harris is the franchise’s leader in goals and assists, one of four players in the league who paces his organization in both those categories. The others—Seattle’s Mark Burton, San Diego’s Travis Dunn, and Philadelphia’s Sean Mott—have combined to appear at two Championship Weekends; Harris, meanwhile, has helped lead his team to the Final Four five times, including an undefeated run to the title back in 2013. 

It would be totally fair for Harris to spend an interview remembering and reflecting upon his greatest individual moments, but unsurprisingly he eagerly deflects credit away from himself, in favor of lavishing it upon his teammates. He rightfully points out that the individual stats only tell a part of the story, emphasizing several instances where the numbers fail to illustrate an important element of winning. And he also seems determined to help bring Toronto back atop the AUDL, acknowledging a belief that, even on the verge of turning 31 this September, his best ultimate lies in front of him.

It was great to chat with Harris earlier this week to get his personal perspective on a wide variety of topics, including his past coaches, his favorite games he’s ever played, and the toughest defenders he’s dealt with in his career. The conversation has been edited slightly for clarity. 

Evan Lepler: Firstly, what's the latest in your life? What has your everyday routine been lately as the pandemic has continued to roar and we've all somewhat accepted that this summer will be unlike any other in recent memory?

Cam Harris: 2020 has been a very memorable year for a lot of reasons so far. Just before quarantine hit my girlfriend and I brought home a new puppy, and then at the start of the quarantine period we got engaged. Both have been great ways of staying busy, entertained and happy in an otherwise difficult time with COVID. Fortunately I have been able to work from home, so the biggest changes are mainly that I have not been able to go to the gym or practice with my teammates. 

EL: While the 2020 season was unfortunately canceled, you've enjoyed seven great years playing in the AUDL, with presumably many more still to come. I'm curious to ask which season you feel was your best year individually and why? Has there been a particular season where you feel you've been especially 'at the peak of your powers?'

CH: I have always thought of ultimate as the epitome of a team sport, so I gauge success based on the success of the team, so 2013 has to be the best year by default when we won the championship. Every year presents different challenges and different ways I can be utilized to help the team win, and with our strength and conditioning coach, Mike Haddock, I feel stronger and quicker each year. So to answer your question, I feel stronger and get smarter each year, so I do not think the AUDL has seen my peak.

EL: Speaking of your powers, I think your reputation certainly exists as a versatile player, but probably as a thrower first and as a cutter second? I use a question mark because you may reject this premise, and I wonder how you feel your skills and roles have evolved on the Rush since 2013? And do you have a preference of handling vs. cutting? Like are you waiting for Thomson McKnight to retire so the team can start centering the disc to you off a pull, or would you rather initiate as you most often do, as a cutter downfield?

CH: I would politely reject that I am a thrower first and cutter second, but would accept that I used to be a hucker first and everything else second. And I think this is one of the biggest ways I have evolved over the years is transitioning from aggressive throws to possession offense. I do prefer cutting to handling, but relish the opportunities to handle when they are there.  Nobody can replace Thomson for being centered to. His ability to move a defense to allow our plays is unparalleled in the game. It makes it very easy to cut for him.

EL: Statistically, by any measure, you've been among the most successful players in AUDL history, and obviously during those seven seasons stats, even if they are still somewhat elementary and evolving, became more and more common in ultimate. As a key player for your contending team, how did you view stats early in your AUDL career, and how has that perspective shifted or changed as you've matured? Are you someone that looks and/or cares about your stats as a season progresses? And is there any particular stat--aside from wins, of course--that you concern yourself with most?

CH: I am very torn on the idea of stats. I think they are great to help fans engage with players and teams, but the stats do not tell the full story of the game yet. For example, there are countless times I have seen Brett Tan lock down a reset for five-plus stalls, forcing a bad throw to go up; or Marijo Zlatic repeatedly shutting down a cutter in the lane; where neither end up in the stats, but are so instrumental to success, often more so than goals or assists. I would love to see these become the next evolution in ultimate stats in addition to the advanced stats we are starting to see for offenses. Aside from wins—and championships—the only stats I put weight into are my personal throwaways and drops as these can be corrected to help the team.

EL: Time for the origin story question, and I know the legend of your older brother supposedly forcing you to throw with him because he wanted to impress a girl by making the ultimate team, and now your brother and that girl are married... Am I remembering all that accurately? If so, what happens more: you taking credit for his marriage or him claiming responsibility for your excellent ultimate career? Any other details or interesting sideplots to your ultimate origin story that haven't been told before?

CH: You are remembering that story correctly. I definitely missed the opportunity to take any credit for his relationship early on, but he has been a unicorn of a husband and dad that he deserves all the credit. However, he does not miss an opportunity to remind friends that he taught me how to throw! I was so incredibly naive about the frisbee world when I was in high school, and if it was not for a chance encounter with a junior's coach at a high school tournament, I probably would not be playing today.  At one of our first tournaments as a junior back in 2007, I unknowingly matched up against Jeff Lindquist and remember thinking at halftime, "Man, everything I do, he is a little better than me at,” and that really stoked my competitive fires to never have that thought again. Not sure if Jeff will remember that, but we became teammates shortly after that and he has been a great mentor and friend ever since.

EL: In seven AUDL seasons, I believe you've played for three different coaches: Evan "Dime" Phillips, Scott "Shooter" Hastie, and Sachin Raina, who does not necessarily have an identifying nickname that I'm aware of--please tell me if I'm wrong. How would you compare and contrast the coaching styles of each of those three leaders, and how did they impact the way you saw and/or approached the game as a player? Additionally, the Rush's new coach for 2020, Adrian Yearwood, was your teammate for the past seven seasons...any thoughts about what it will be like to play for him rather than with him?

CH: Sachin likes to call himself the "Greatest Pull Catcher of All Time,” but that's not really a nickname that rolls off the tongue. All three previous coaches come from unique experiences that shaped their coaching styles. Dime is a renowned thrower and quarterback of an offense and saw the game exceptionally well from a handler’s perspective and how handler movement can shape an offense. Shooter was known for his defense and knew all the tips and tricks to improve our defense and exploit other teams defensive schemes. And Sachin has been a bit of a nomad that has played everywhere pretty much since the dawn of frisbee, so he had a lot of strategies and systems to try and teach us. It will definitely be weird to not play alongside Adrian; we have pretty much been on the same line for 10-plus years now, but I have high expectations for him as a coach I know he will meet. He is an experienced handler, but it is not as well known he was a lethal cutter before that, which brings a fresh new perspective. In the major sports leagues you always hear about those "character" guys in a locker room that every team wants, and that is Adrian.

EL: Simple question: what's your favorite game you've ever played in?

CH: Do you know how many games I have played, this is not simple! 

I'll narrow it to two: First ever home game in the AUDL, getting to play with an awesome group in front of family and friends for the first time showcasing the sport that occupies so much of my time was really special. The other game would be for the bronze medal in World Games 2013 against Colombia, in Colombia; the energy from the raucous crowd is etched in my memories.

EL: Considering you've mostly played O-line throughout your career, I'm curious who've been the toughest defenders that have guarded you in your seven years with the Rush?

CH: It has been a privilege to practice against some of the best defenders in the AUDL twice a week now for seven years, and I have been fortunate to learn from them what works and what does not work for me based on how a defender matches up. With that in mind though, we do not have a defender that can mimic what Jeff Babbitt is able to do on the field, so that is a matchup that presents unique challenges.

EL: Beyond the players who've guarded you, who have been your favorite AUDL players to watch through the years, and why? Let's limit it to non-Rush personnel. 

CH: Glad you specified to limit it to non-Rush players or this response would have turned into a novel. One of my all time favorite players to watch is Derek Alexander. His quickness, fakes, and release points are the closest thing ultimate has to poetry in motion, in my opinion.

EL: And a couple non-ultimate ones: firstly, what's your favorite unhealthy food? Ice cream or poutine or potato chips or what?

CH: Poutine, hands down. There's a place in Montreal called "Ma Poule Mouillée,” and if I lived there, let's just say I would not be able to stay in playing shape.

EL: Lastly, what are your three favorite books? Realizing this may be a challenging question--I've enjoyed reading many books but not sure what I'd say are my all-time favorites--feel free to amend the question to: what's something interesting and/or enjoyable that you've read relatively recently?

CH: Outside of frisbee, I am a science nerd, so three of my favorite books are Sapiens, The Emperor of All Maladies, and The Beautiful Cure.