Jeremiah Masoli admits that yeah, it is kind of nice that he’s back in Edmonton this week. Playing in the 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw would have been the ideal scenario, but this week and Thursday night will still be special to him.
“It’s definitely an honour, definitely a humbling experience just being nominated,” Masoli, the East’s nominee for Most Outstanding Player said ahead of Thursday’s Shaw CFL Awards.
“Coming from my journey, starting here, all the way to being nominated for the MOP is truly a blessing, man. It’s almost like a fairytale in a sense.”
Masoli’s CFL career was launched in Edmonton in 2012. He didn’t get on the field, but started learning the Canadian game while on the injured list. He was traded to Hamilton that off-season, in February, 2013. In Hamilton, he had to play the waiting game, getting on the field just five times in his first three years there.
He went onto the practice roster in 2015, falling to fourth on the team’s QB depth chart. With then-starter Zach Collaros recovering from a knee injury, Masoli got short-term starting duty in 2016 and when the Ticats fell to 0-8 in 2017, he became the new starter under coach June Jones, who replaced Kent Austin mid-season.
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Masoli led Hamilton to an 8-10 record this year, getting the Ticats back into the playoffs and hosting a playoff game before they fell in Ottawa this past Sunday. Seven long years into his CFL career, Masoli showed in his first full year as a starter what he always knew he was capable of. He was second in passing, with 5,209 yards and was third in touchdowns thrown, with 28 and rushed for 473 yards, which was second among QBs.
Now 30, Masoli laughs thinking about the times he’d been written off over the years.
“It is what it is,” he said. “People are going to have their opinions. It’s almost been like that my whole life.
“I’ve been a quarterback coming out of high school super short, no offers, going to junior college, I’ve always had to get it on my own. No one’s really given me a chance.
“People say I don’t pass the eye test, but it’s all about hard work and consistency, the determination, the belief in yourself. It’s all cliche but it’s true.
“There were times that I almost thought I wasn’t going to play football anymore. You’ve got to keep working hard and believe in yourself. That had a lot to do with my dad instilling the faith in me, but I knew I had talent. I just had to cultivate it and get it right.”
He said landing on the Ticats practice roster in 2015 was the hardest thing he’s dealt with in his football career.
“It was a tough pill to swallow, that I was on practice squad,” he said.
“I knew I was talented but truthfully I didn’t assert myself like I needed to. I didn’t put in the work, put the time in like I do now. I know what it takes. Back then I didn’t know. It was a good kick in the butt though, looking back. Honestly, it was very humbling and it got me going and made me learn what it took to be a good quarterback.”
The common denominator in Masoli’s CFL career has been Eric Tillman. He watched Masoli intently when he was at Oregon and when he transferred to Ole Miss for the 2010 season.
When he was the GM in Saskatchewan, Tillman put Masoli on the Riders’ negotiation list. When he took the GM job in Edmonton, he traded for Masoli’s rights. When Tillman took a role with the Ticats in 2013, he helped the organization piece together a trade with Edmonton that included Masoli and linebacker Simoni Lawrence.
“I just felt like his skill-set was suited for this league.” said Tillman, who assumed GM duties with the Ticats in 2016.
“An athletic quarterback that had the arm to make all of the throws, played in a spread system, certainly had the athleticism to extend plays and to make first downs as a runner, which he’s done here. He could also step up to escape the pocket and extend plays.
“The bigger field makes it much more difficult to cover and if you can buy time, even with the great defences here, guys just break down, guys get open. So the ability to move is a huge part of that.”
Masoli’s time on the practice roster was a significant part of his career; on the flipside, Tillman actually didn’t recall that the team had made that move.
“Kent challenged him. Kent coaches hard, OK, but he also coaches from the heart and both of those are important,” Tillman said of Austin, who is now in a consulting role with the team.
“Part of the development is two steps forward, one sideways, two forward, one back. Kent’s very demanding on being in shape, being focused and being on time, doing all of the right things. It was all a process to help bring Jeremiah to where he is today.
“(Masoli) got a lot more love from Kent than he did tough love, but there was some of both.”
Masoli heads into the off-season with the sour taste of a lopsided playoff loss in his mouth, but he’s optimistic about 2019. He knows change through free agency is inevitable but he says the core of the team wants to be back and wants to continue to build on what they’ve started under June Jones.
His off-season will consist of training in San Francisco, Hawaii and he’s hoping a stop in his native Samoa. He’s also just found out he’ll be a father for the second time. He and his wife are expecting the addition to their family in May.
He’ll savour this time in Edmonton and reflect on where he’s been and what awaits in the future. Whether he’s the MOP on Thursday night or it goes to Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell, Masoli is enjoying the journey.
“We’re getting old, growing up. Time flies,” he said. “That’s why you’ve got to take advantage of that window.”
Shaw CFL Award winners to be announced Thursday in Edmonton
After an arduous voting process that took the input of 68 media member votes from across the country, we’ll find out Thursday night who the best of the best was in the CFL in 2018. The Shaw CFL Award Show gets underway at 8 p.m. ET and will stream live on CFL.ca.
Before the show gets started, fans can also watch the red carpet arrival of players live at CFL.ca.
Jeremiah Masoli (East) and Bo Levi Mitchell (West) are up for the Most Outstanding Player award. Nominated for the first time in his seven-year career, Masoli goes up against Mitchell, who is looking for his second-ever MOP award.
Winnipeg linebacker Adam Bighill (West) is up against Hamilton linebacker Larry Dean (East) for Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Bighill brought a huge spark to the Bombers’ defence in 2018, finishing with 105 tackles, leading a group that tied for first with a turnover ratio of plus-13. Bighill had 127 defensive plays this season, impacting the game all over the field. Dean matched Bighill’s 105 tackles and led the top defence in the East and had 113 defensive plays.
Two very familiar faces are up for Most Outstanding Canadian. Bombers running back Andrew Harris is looking for a repeat win, on the heels of a career year on the ground that took Winnipeg to its first Division Final in seven years. For the second year in a row, he’s up against Ottawa REDBLACKS receiver Brad Sinopoli, who set a single-season Canadian catching record this year, pulling in 116 passes. Sinopoli’s 1,376 receiving yards were third-best in the league.
Bombers offensive tackle Stanley Bryant is looking for a repeat win of the NISSAN TITAN Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award. He’s up against first-time nominee and another Hamilton Tiger-Cat, in Brandon Revenberg. Winnipeg can claim the top-scoring offence in the league and of course, a 1,390-yard rushing season for Andrew Harris, while the Ticats can boast of a QB that cracked the 5,000-yard passing mark and the second-best pass attack (310.7 yards per game) in the league. Both teams allowed 36 sacks this season.
It’s a kicker fight for the Most Outstanding Special teams award. BC’s Ty Long handled kicking and punting duties for the Lions this year, leading the league in punting (48.8 yards per punt) and net punting (38.5 yards per punt), while making 43 of his 49 field goal attempts. Lewis Ward meanwhile, made 98.1 per cent of his field goals and set a professional football record with 48 consecutive makes.
Ward’s success carries over to the Most Outstanding Rookie award, where he’s up against Saskatchewan’s Jordan Williams-Lambert. The Riders receiver had 62 catches for 764 yards and four touchdowns, leading the team in receptions and tying for first in TD receptions. Williams-Lambert was second in receiving on his team.
Chris Jones will be looking for his first-ever coach of the year award, going up against Ottawa head coach Rick Campbell. In his third year in Saskatchewan, Jones’ Riders continued to develop, going from a five-win team in 2016, to a 10-win crew in 2017. The 2018 edition won 12 games and hosted its first-ever home playoff game at Mosaic Stadium. Campbell led the REDBLACKS to an 11-7 record this year, good for a three-win improvement and got his team to its third Grey Cup game in four years. Ottawa hit the double-digit mark in wins for the first time since 2015.
The Commissioner’s Award, the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Affairs Award, the Tom Pate Memorial Award and the Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award will also be presented on Thursday night.