After a year mostly out of football, things are looking up for Heath Harding.
“Up” in this case meaning both better and to the north.
The former Dayton Christian star and All-Mid-American Conference defensive back announced this week he has agreed to join the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
The Miami University grad looks at it as an exciting opportunity to get back on the field and remind the rest of the world what he can do after an injury hindered him in 2018.
“I”m a football player — I play my best ball when it’s 11 on 11,” he said in a phone interview this week. “I can scheme, I see your splits and know your routes, that kind of stuff. I’m an all-around football player. I’m not just a cover guy who looks pretty in shorts. I want to get in your face and hit you, too, and I feel with my size, my hitting ability helps me stand out compared to a minicamp setting.”
Harding wasn’t picked in the NFL draft last spring but signed with the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent.
He went through the offseason program with the team, but they parted ways before training camp.
Harding said he had his good days and bad with the Falcons, attributing a lack of consistency to a nagging quad injury.
“I wasn’t at the level of normal me,” he said. “I was still decent. I went to the Falcons minicamp and was holding my own, but my body was failing me.
"During the course of training camp and the season, (NFL) teams were calling me, but I just honestly wasn’t ready. I figured why go there and not be the full me and get cut and then get with someone else and get cut again. That would look bad, so I took the year off, and now I’m 100 percent for the first time. This is the best I have felt since our bowl game.”
While not making an NFL roster right out of college was frustrating, he chose to look on the bright side.
“If I went to Atlanta and completely flopped, I would have been real with myself and said I’m not good enough to play in this league, but I was there and not healthy and guarding some of their guys and holding my own,” Harding said. “I wasn’t losing the battles, so I thought if I’m doing that not healthy, then what if they could see me at my best?”
During five years in Oxford, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Harding developed a reputation as a strong cover man willing to lay a lick.
He said he hopes that physical nature will help him stand out with the Stampeders, who are the defending Gray Cup champions, once games begin in June.
The wider field and more pass-oriented style of the CFL could give him plenty opportunities to shine, too.
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“I feel like I can do it when I’m healthy, when my body is taken care of, and finally I’m there so I’m just ready to get back to me, man,” he said. “I haven’t felt this good in a long, long time.”
A journalism major who was nicknamed, “The Mayor of Oxford” for his outgoing personality, Harding is happy to be joining one of the most successful organizations in the CFL.
Home in Dayton this month, Harding plans to return to Cleveland soon to resume workouts at the Game Speed Performance Academy before reporting for minicamp north of the border this spring.
“I know what I can do on the field and sadly people forgot, so I feel like going to Canada I can remind them and let them see all aspects of my game, not just what I can do in shorts and t-shirt.”