Every year the league’s best gather in the host city of the Grey Cup and hand out some hardware to those who have excelled at their respective positions or in being a community leader. CFL legends and current greats gathered at the Winspear Centre Thursday night mixed with fans of every team in the Canadian Football League to honour the best to play this year.
The awards were handed out by community leaders and ex CFL greats ranging from Henry Burris to Milt Stegall and even ex-Eskimo greats Danny Bass and Henry “Gizmo” Williams.
Here’s how the party went down:
Most Outstanding Rookie: Lewis Ward
Ward was the RedBlacks most consistent player throughout 2018. Ward only missed one field goal all season for Ottawa totalling 169 points on the year for an astonishing 98% success rate. He broke umpteen league records, including most consistently made field goals on route to playing a massive role in getting the RedBlacks to the Grey Cup.
Most Outstanding Special Teams: Lewis Ward
As if winning the Rookie of the Year award wasn’t enough, Ward ended up taking home the league’s best Special Teams Player award as well. As previously mentioned, Ward put together one of the best statistical seasons ever for a kicker. What makes not only his year but his two awards so memorable is that a year ago Ward was working security for the RedBlacks before trying out for the team.
While accepting his Special Teams award the Kingston Ontario Native left a message for young people out there chasing a dream. In his acceptance speech, Ward said ” just because it doesn’t happen the way you want it to, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The young kicker has proven that no matter where you are in life if you truly want something to take a shot at it. It might just end up with you carrying two awards home.
Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman: Stanley Bryant
Bryant has been a CFL All-Star for nine years and has been cashing in awards for a few years now. Finishing off his fourth season in Winnipeg, Bryant took home the O-Lineman award Thursday night for the second year in a row, the first Bomber to win two straight in franchise history. It seems like he’s nominated for the award every year; when you see how dominant and consistent he is - never missing a game for Winnipeg - it’s no wonder Andrew Harris and company have the success they do.
Most Outstanding Defensive Player: Adam Bighill
Bighill was a dominant force for Winnipeg all season. He was in the top three in tackles this year with 105 and led the league in forced fumbles with 4. Add two interceptions and one touchdown and it’s no mystery why Bighill was the named the league’s best defensive player.
It was very clear that the Bombers’ defence gained a new identity once they signed Bighill. He was a huge part of the team turning things around and making a playoff push that ended in the West Final.
Most Outstanding Canadian: Brad Sinopoli
Sinopoli finished third in the league in receiving yards with 1,376 which marked his fourth consecutive year of 1,000 yards receiving. It’s the second time Sinopoli has taken home the award for best Canadian and was his third career nomination. Since joining the RedBlacks in 2015, Sinopoli has established himself as the best Canadian receiver in the league and it shows each week. He’s been a cornerstone in getting Ottawa to the Grey Cup this year and two other years since joining the team. Should Ottawa win Sunday it would be his second title and it’s no surprise with the resume he’s put together.
Coach of the Year: Chris Jones
The Man in Black took home the coach of the year award after his Saskatchewan Roughriders finished in second place in the West. It was the first time the organization had finished second since they won the Grey Cup in 2013. 2018 was Jones’ third year with the Riders and while some fans of the Green & White may have had their doubts about Jones’ ways its hard to argue that he hasn’t been successful.
He took a three-win team, gutted it from top to bottom, and turned it into a defensive powerhouse that can score at any moment. Finishing with 12 wins on the season, Jones has proven he has this team on the right track and is deserving of the award. This is the first COY award for Jones as he becomes the fifth Riders coach to win all-time behind Corey Chamblin, Kent Austin, John Gregory, Joe Faragalli and Eagle Keys.
Most Outstanding Player: Bo Levi Mitchell
Mitchell has his Stampeders back in the Grey Cup for the fourth time in his career and the third year in a row. He led the league in touchdown passes with 35 and finished in the top three in yards with 5,124. It’s the second time in his career he’s thrown for 5,000+ yards with the last time coming in 2016 when he last won the MOP.
He led the Stamps to a first-place finish in the West for the third straight year and did it with a receiving unit that has been missing three of its top producers most of the season. Becoming the second-youngest player to win the award multiple times behind Jackie Parker is no surprise when you look at what this Texas gunslinger does week in week out.
Not to take anything away from the nominees who fell short, but this was a year where it felt like every winner was truly deserving. Four other awards were given out to those who have showed excellence not just on the field but off.
Former Eskimo, Argo and Alouette O-Lineman Pierre Vercheval was awarded the Commissioner’s Award for his dedication to the CFL throughout his playing and broadcast career.
Eskimo Long Snapper Ryan King was given the Tom Pate Memorial Award for his contributions to the Edmonton Community, while Rolly Lumbala was awarded the Jake Gaudaur Veteran’s Award for his perseverance throughout the season while playing in all but one game for the Lions. Lumbala lost his father to cancer in September and continued to play and be a pillar in the community leading to the award.
Finally, the Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award went to Wally Buono. The award goes to someone who has shown great leadership and made significant contributions to the CFL. If that doesn’t scream Wally Buono I don’t know what does. Buono recalled winning the Grey Cup in 2001 with the Stampeders during his acceptance speech. He said he remember coming off the field and thinking if the Super Bowl is better than this, then it must be something else.
The awards night Thursday night was a great even and really showcased what makes the CFL the greatest sports league there is. As players and coaches of today and the past made their way out of the theatre and into the Winspear lobby, it became a mass of CFL players, legends and fans all together. All discussing memories and plays of yesteryear.
This is what truly makes the CFL great.