CALGARY — Many of the league’s brightest stars were on display Thursday night at the Shaw CFL Awards, but none shone brighter than Brandon Banks.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver was named the 2019 Most Outstanding Player, capping off a career year in which he led the league in both receiving yards (1,550) and touchdowns (13) among several other major statistical categories.
The honour marks the first time in seven years a receiver has been named MOP, after Toronto Argonauts slotback Chad Owens claimed the award in 2012.
“I’ve matured, I’ve grown as a man,” said Banks. “The organization has had my back since day one so that made me comfortable and let me be who I am. I’ve grown, I’m just happy to be part of an organization that allows you to be you and puts family first.”
Banks and the Ticats will play for the 107th Grey Cup on Sunday against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“At the end of the day I want to be proven as a winner, and Sunday is what that’s all about.”
Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo was the runner up, after combining for 28 touchdowns and just eight interceptions while leading the Riders to their first West Division title since 2009.
The Ticats and Bombers were both well represented at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, where fans and players gathered to recognize the league’s biggest achievers this season.
Head Coach Orlondo Steinauer, offensive lineman Chris Van Zeyl and special teams returner Frankie Williams also earned major honours for the Ticats, while Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson was named Most Outstanding Defensive Player.
Montreal Alouettes linebacker and former first overall pick Henoc Muamba was named Most Outstanding Canadian, and Calgary Stampeders linebacker Nate Holley won Most Outstanding Rookie as five of the seven major award winners will play in Sunday’s Grey Cup.
For Banks, 31, winning the CFL’s highest individual honour highlights his tremendous growth as a player. Banks has made the transition from return ace to arguably the league’s most exciting and dynamic offensive playmaker, playing a leading role in the Ticats’ franchise record 15-win season.
“With my skill-set, I’m happy to be in that kind of offence,” said Banks. “I always want the ball. The offence we run creates a lot of chaos. It just goes to show the trust that coaches have in me to make a play.”
Despite having an impact on special teams, his biggest contributions have come on the offensive side of the ball, topping the league in games with 100-plus receiving yards (eight), yards after catch (657) and receptions of 20-plus yards (21). The Garner, N.C., native finished third with 2,029 combined yards and second in yards from scrimmage with 1,606.
On the defensive side of the ball, no player has frustrated opposing offences more than Jefferson, who set a record for defensive linemen with 16 pass knockdowns. The Bombers’ defensive end added 12 sacks and six forced fumbles in an impactful first season in Winnipeg.
“This just shows all the hard work that I put in during the off-season as a whole and the work we put in during the off-season,” Jefferson said. “Just being recognized for all that hard work, all those passes knocked down and all those sacks.”
Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence is the runner up. The two will go head to head in Sunday’s Grey Cup Championship.
For Steinauer, the long wait to become a head coach has paid off. More than a decade removed from a prolific playing career, Steinauer led the Ticats to a franchise record 15 wins and an East Division title. The Ticats’ head coach also tied a record for rookie coaching wins.
After winning the award, Steinauer recalled his journey to becoming a head coach.
“I’ve known my wife since university and Gina, she’s always a strong lady that has supported my goals,” he said. “I didn’t want to jump back into coaching because I didn’t want to relocate and put the family through that sort of thing. I accepted a job at a different company. I was excited about it, until I got a call from Jim Barker. She just kind of looked and smirked at me and said ‘you’re a head coach’.”
Muamba was named Most Outstanding Canadian after his second season in Montreal, in which he led the Alouettes to their first playoff game since 2014. His 93 tackles were the second most of his career, while his leadership paid dividends on a young Montreal defence.
“I embraced that challenge, knowing exactly how difficult it would be, but one of the things I was asked to be was a leader,” said Muamba. “I’ve always been asked to be a leader, but I felt that this year I was the best leader I’ve been in my life and my career.”
Jim Lawson, chairman of the CFL’s Board of Governors, was honoured with the Commissioner’s Award by Commissioner Randy Ambrosie.
LONG READ: BANKS CLEARS ALL HURDLES EN ROUTE TO MOP
Counted out by some, embraced by many more, Brandon Banks talks through a career year that earned him Most Outstanding Player honours with senior writer Chris O’Leary … READ MORE.
Current Stampeders general manager and president John Hufnagel earned the Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award in recognition of the individual who has demonstrated great leadership and has made significant contributions to the league.
Stamps punter Rob Maver was named the 2019 recipient of the Tom Pate Memorial Award. Selected by the CFL Players’ Association, the award celebrates outstanding sportsmanship and is given to a player who has made significant contributions to his team and his community.
Current Als long snapper Martin Bédard received the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award, which is given annually to a Canadian player who demonstrates the attributes of Canada’s veterans: strength, perseverance, courage, comradeship and contribution to Canadian communities.
The first-ever Jane Mawby Tribute Award, recognizing a highly-valued, yet too often unsung current employee at the club and league level, was presented to Calgary’s director of video operations, Ross Folan.