WINNIPEG — On a night when players were honoured at the Shaw CFL Awards, the Ottawa REDBLACKS had four award winners on their team including Henry Burris, who was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player for the second time in his career.
“It shows the progression that we’ve made as far as a team and an organization, and as a city in Ottawa,” said Burris, winner of both MOP and the Tom Pate. “Because last year there was never any hope of that occurring.
“To see that we’ve come full circle to now put a product on the field that’s not only getting our city’s attention but it’s getting this country’s attention.”
The Shaw CFL Awards took place at Club Regent Event Centre in Winnipeg, Man. as part of the festivities for the 103rd Grey Cup presented by Shaw. Receiver and former quarterback Brad Sinopoli and offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers also represented the REDBLACKS by winning awards, while Head Coach Rick Campbell took home AGF Coach of the Year honours.
CFL leading tackler Adam Bighill was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player, marking the second year in a row that a Lions defender has both led the league in tackles and won the highest defensive honour. A year ago, Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian won Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Most Outstanding Player while breaking the league’s all-time single-season tackles record.
Superstar receiver Derel Walker meanwhile was named the Most Outstanding Rookie. He was arguably the most productive receiver in the entire CFL, placing fifth in the league in receiving yards while not playing the first third of the season.
Brandon Banks, widely considered the CFL’s most electrifying player, was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player for his efforts on punt returns for the Ticats.
The Most Outstanding Player Award winners were selected by a panel of voters that includes representation from the Football Reporters of Canada from all CFL markets, the national chapter of FRC voters and head coaches of the CFL. In total, 75 voters completed their ballots. No player selections were unanimous.
This year’s winners are listed below (click on the link for more):
CFL MOST OUTSTANDING PLAYER
Forget good Hank or bad Hank, now it’s outstanding Hank.
Henry Burris won Most Outstanding Player on Thursday night in Winnipeg, continuing what’s been a storybook season for the second-year Ottawa REDBLACKS.
The 40-year-old’s 15th season in the CFL proved to be his best yet. He led the league in passing with 5,693 passing yards (a career-high), threw 26 touchdown passes and completed 70.9 percent of his passes which was also a career-high.
Burris became the league’s oldest pivot to ever lead the league in passing yards, while he also helped lead the second-best team turnaround of plus-10 wins after REDBLACKS finished first in the East Division this season following a two-win, last-place finish in 2014.
Burris also helped bring playoff football back to Ottawa after the REDBLACKS hosted the Eastern Final on Nov. 22nd, the first home playoff game in the capital since 1983. The REDBLACKS won that game against Hamilton 35-28 on the strength of Burris’ 93-yard touchdown pass in the game’s dying minutes, sending Ottawa to a Grey Cup berth against the Edmonton Eskimos.
In his career, Burris has been nominated three times for the Most Outstanding Player Award (2008, 2010 and 2015) and has now won it twice (in 2010 and 2015). On Sunday he will look to win the third Grey Cup of his career.
The REDBLACKS quarterback received 71 first-place votes for Most Outstanding Player.
MOST OUTSTANDING CANADIAN PLAYER
From quarterback to receiver, Brad Sinopoli continues to turn heads in the CFL.
Sinopoli had a career season in his fourth campaign in the league and first with the Ottawa REDBLACKS, finishing with a career-high 86 receptions — good enough to tie for fifth in the league. He converted those receptions for a new career benchmark of 1,035 yards.
He’s a long way from where he was just a few years ago, sitting at home in Newfoundland wondering if he’d ever play another down of football after being released as a quarterback.
“No, never, to be honest with you,” said Sinopoli, asked whether he had ever imagined a moment like this. “At that time I never thought I’d ever play another down of football in my life.
“But that’s just the situation I was in and I’m extremely lucky to be back in the league and I’m lucky to be on the team with the opportunity I’ve been given. I’m always going to be grateful for that.”
The former University of Ottawa Gee-Gee led all Canadians in receiving yards. Sinopoli is the first Ottawa player to win the award since Tony Gabriel won it four times in a row, ending in 1978. The Peterborough, Ont. native also becomes the first receiver to win the award since Andy Fantuz in 2010.
Sinopoli was one of four REDBLACKS receivers to eclipse the 1,000 yard barrier. He led all national players in receptions and receiving yards and finished the year with three touchdown receptions.
Most importantly, he led a team that went from winning two games to taking the East Division crown and now appearing in the Grey Cup Championship.
“It’s a tremendous honour,” he said. “It’s hard to sit up there and be singled out with the team that we have. I’m happy to be part of this league and to be in this position today.”
And of course, Sunday’s Grey Cup against Edmonton is what matters most for the former Stampeder. Sinopoli won a Grey Cup a year ago with the Stamps and has a chance to make it two in a row, now with Ottawa.
“I don’t think those two compare,” said Sinopoli, asked to comapre winning the award with the feeling of winning a Grey Cup. “Sunday’s what we’re all coming to work for every game.
“From day one that’s our ultimate goal as a team,” he added. “It’s amazing, when you win a Grey Cup, the feeling that you have – it’s hard to put into words.”
Sinopoli tallied 47 first place votes. Bombers rush end Jamaal Westerman was the runner up in just his first CFL season after placing second in the CFL in sacks.
MOST OUTSTANDING ROOKIE
Even his quarterback Mike Reilly was mildly surprised when Derel Walker exploded onto the CFL scene like he did in 2015.
Walker wasn’t just impressive for a rookie, he was arguably the best receiver in the league. He finished fifth in the entire league in receiving yards with 1,110, second in receptions with 89 and finished with six touchdowns despite playing in only 12 games this season.
It started with a three-hour drive to an all-day tryout in Dallas, then a long three-hour drive home late at night. It didn’t take long after that for Walker to show he’s a big time CFL receiver.
“Opportunities don’t come around too often, so you have to hit the ground running,” Walker said after receiving the award.
The 24-year-old spent the first six games of Edmonton’s season on the practice roster. Then he exploded out of the gate in his first three games, picking up 472 yards for an average of 157 yards per game.
“I feel like they developed me while I was on the practice squad, so I was learning the system and learning the game because it’s clearly different than American football.”
The biggest thing, Walker said, was gaining trust in his coaches and quarterbacks. Walker first caught passes from Matt Nichols, then backup rookie James Franklin. When Reilly returned under centre for the Eskimos in the Labour Day rematch, it took the two some time to establish chemistry.
By now, though, Walker has become a go-to target for Reilly, entering Sunday’s Grey Cup matchup with Ottawa coming off back to back 11-catch performances.
“You have to get the quarterback’s trust, the coach’s trust,” said Walker. “They have to trust you to know you’re not going to go out there and mess up. You have to know your assignment every play, every snap of the game.
“Once they have your trust then it’s up to the quarterback to trust you, and after he throws the ball to you a certain number of times he’s going to have faith in you that you’re going to come down with the ball.”
This award marks consecutive seasons that Most Outstanding Rookie award has been awarded to an Edmonton player; Walker’s teammate Dexter McCoil won the award last season. Walker becomes the fourth Eskimos player to win the honour and the first receiver since Chris Matthews won it in 2012 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The native of Hillsboro, Tex. received 66 first place votes, while Argos rookie Vidal Hazelton was the runner-up.
“I’m really having a great time, I can’t even put it into words. I’m just truly blessed.”
MOST OUTSTANDING SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER
The CFL’s most electrifying player is also the Most Outstanding Special Teams Player.
Brandon Banks scored the most return touchdowns of the 2015 season and recorded 930 yards (12.4 yards per punt return) on 75 punt returns, scoring a league-leading four touchdowns in the process.
Yet on Thursday, he accepted the honour on behalf of his teammates.
“I’m accepting this award on behalf of the other 11 guys on the field,” said Banks. “It’s not just me, Brandon Banks, it’s the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ special teams.
“They did a great job this year and I’m excited to accept the award on their behalf.”
The speedster from Garner, N.C. notched 1,766 combined return yards, third-highest in the league. Banks set new personal bests in both kick return yards (782) and punt return yards (930) in his third season in the Canadian Football League.
The product of Kansas State University received 54 first-place votes. This is Banks’ first Most Outstanding Special Teams Player award.
“It’s a great honour,” said Banks. “It’s fun to be here, I’m enjoying myself.”
Banks edged Stampeders kicker Rene Paredes for the honour.
MOST OUTSTANDING DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Adam Bighill had a career year and led the CFL in tackles, and now he’s the Defensive Most Outstanding Player.
After leading the league in tackles with 117, Bighill followed up in the footsteps of teammate Solomon Elimimian with the first honour of his career. Bighill also collected four sacks, an interception and a fumble on the year to help extend the Lions’ playoff streak to 19 straight seasons.
“The last five years I’ve been living my dream and I have to thank the BC Lions for that,” said Bighill. The 5-foot-10, 223-pound linebacker has been proving people wrong his entire life, partially because of his smaller stature.
“For all young people, don’t let anyone determine what you can do,” Bighill added. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”
The five-year CFL veteran and Montesano, Wash. native earned 46 first-place votes. He gets the nod over Simoni Lawrence, the heart of the Ticats’ defence who had a career year with 80 tackles and a pair of interceptions.
MOST OUTSTANDING OFFENSIVE LINEMAN
SirVicent Rogers gets the nod as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman, emerging as a premier front man in his first season with the REDBLACKS.
Rogers joined Ottawa as a free agent along with Jason Maas from the Toronto Argonauts and played an underrated role in Ottawa’s offensive uprising, one that saw the REDBLACKS’ offence become the top-producing unit in the CFL.
“It means a lot,” said Rogers, one of four REDBLACKS to come home with hardware on Thursday night. “Any time you’re recognized or even nominated for the best at what you do, I think it’s a pretty cool thing and I’m grateful.”
The arrival of Rogers up front helped stabilize the REDBLACKS’ offensive line, which stood tall in defending the pass rush by only allowing 43 sacks on the season. Rogers’ work on the field allowed Henry Burris to pass for the most yards in the league and helped four Ottawa receivers eclipse the 1,000 yard mark on the year.
The standout University of Houston alum becomes the first Ottawa player to win the award since Rob Smith in 1992. A native of Jasper, Tex., Rogers received 58 first-place votes to win his first Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award.
Rogers will now compete for a Grey Cup ring on Sunday against the Edmonton Eskimos, a team that will provide a sturdy challenge for Ottawa’s O-line.
“My ultimate goal is to be a champion and for me to do that, it’s going to take all of those guys I mentioned and my teammates that I recognized,” said Rogers.
Jovan Olafioye is the runner-up after logging another solid season with the BC Lions.
AGF COACH OF THE YEAR
Rick Campbell’s second season as a CFL head coach was the opposite of a sophomore slump.
Campbell was named the AGF Coach of the Year on Thursday night in Winnipeg, edging out runner-up Chris Jones. Jones’ Eskimos and Campbell’s REDBLACKS will meet in the Grey Cup on Sunday.
“It’s totally a team award, it’s not about me,” said Campbell. “It’s everybody within our organization and I’m proud to be a part of the REDBLACKS organization.
“The biggest award is the one nobody votes on at the end of the week on Sunday and we’ll be doing our best to see if we can get that done.”
In Ottawa’s second season under Campbell, the REDBLACKS turned from a two-win team in 2014 to an Ottawa franchise-best 12-win team. After finishing first in the East Division, the team hosted its first playoff game in 32 years and their first East Final game since 1978.
This season, Ottawa was fueled by the best net offence in the CFL powered by Henry Burris; and the REDBLACKS also attacked the quarterback extremely well, leading the league with 62 sacks.
Campbell’s achievement makes the Campbells the first father-son duo to win the Annis Stuskus Trophy. Rick’s father Hugh was selected Coach of the Year in 1979 as coach of the Edmonton Eskimos.
Campbell received 54 first-place votes.
The Commissioner’s Award, in recognition of an individual or group who has made significant contributions to the league, was awarded by Commissioner Jeffrey L. Orridge at the Shaw CFL Awards. Former Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Bernie Custis, who became the first black starting quarterback in pro football, was the recipient.
In 1951, Custis was named an all-star and a few years later won the Grey Cup with the Tiger-Cats. Custis formed a path that was followed by other well-known black quarterbacks in the CFL like Warren Moon and Chuck Ealey.
JAKE GAUDAUR VETERANS’ AWARD
The Honourable Kent Hehr, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, accompanied by Canadian Veterans Murdoch and Linda Jardine, presented the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award to Jeff Perrett, Offensive Tackle for the Montréal Alouettes. The prestigious award was one of the highlights of the 2015 Shaw CFL Awards.
An important part of the Alouette offensive line, Perrett has always led by example on the field and off. During the 2015 season, however, he decided to make public a painfully difficult personal matter. Perrett revealed that he had long been struggling with alcoholism, opening up about the profound affect it has had on his family and the difficult steps he has taken to manage the disease. His story was profiled widely throughout North America.
As a professional athlete, Perrett recognizes that his role in the public eye gives him the opportunity to raise awareness and change the lives of many facing similar challenges. He has become involved in various community programs with the Alouettes, including Together at School, where he shares his life story and past experiences, and encourages kids to stay in school to seek the benefits of a higher education.
Prior to the awards ceremony, on November 25, the Grey Cup was on display at the Deer Lodge Centre, where Minister Hehr visited residents—many of whom are Veterans—and staff.
TOM PATE MEMORIAL AWARD
Henry Burris is the recipient of this year’s Tom Pate Memorial Award, given to a player who displays qualities that distinguish him from his peers.
Burris displayed outstanding sportsmanship on the field this season while making significant contributions to the REDBLACKS, the City of Ottawa and Ontario. Among many other things, Burris donated $5,000 to the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
HUGH CAMPBELL DISTINGUISHED LEADERSHIP AWARD
The man whose voice is synonymous with Canadian football in Manitoba has been honoured with the Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award.
Bob Irving, who has been calling Winnipeg Blue Bomber games for most of the past 40 years on CJOB radio, and broadcast CFL games on television as part of the Canadian Football Network in the late 1980’s, was praised as a broadcasting legend, a pillar of the community, and a Winnipeg icon.
“This gentleman has been – in the truest sense of the word – the voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, on air, at countless events, everywhere we go,” said Brock Bulbuck, Chairperson of the Winnipeg football club’s Board of Directors.
“And we, our fans, and the CFL, are so much better for it.”
The Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award is named for the renowned Canadian football player, coach and executive who was part of ten Grey Cup championships.
It is presented to someone who has strengthened Canadian football, the Canadian Football League, and their place in Canada’s sports culture.
“Tonight’s honouree has certainly done that, with purpose and professionalism,” said Bulbuck, who made the presentation on behalf of the entire CFL Board of Directors.
“And at the same time, he has strengthened this community, with many acts of kindness and charity.”
Irving, a member of the Order of Manitoba, was joined by members of his family, which includes wife Daye, children Kyle, Reid and Ashleigh, and seven grandchildren.