April 19, 2024

The Players’ Say: Who will win the 111th Grey Cup?

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

TORONTO — As the players had the scenario explained to them, you could often see the pain in their faces.

With players from across the league pulled together last week in Hamilton for the CFL’s content shoot, we offered them a handful of questions about the coming year and their thoughts on their peers. The toughest question for them by far was the following:

Without picking your team — because everyone would just pick their own teams — tell us who you think will win the Grey Cup this year.

Even accepting the parameters of the question, each player struggled with not being able to take their squad to make the run all the way to Nov. 17, where a confetti cannon awaits the winner of the 111th Grey Cup game. Still, the question produced some insightful answers, giving us a glimpse of how these players view their competition and the relationships that develop when you spend a number of years in a league where over time, everyone gets to know everyone else very well.

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You can’t pick your team. Who will win the Grey Cup in 2024?

Demerio Houston: I would say maybe the Elks. They were on a rough patch where they were losing at home. Just to have them turn their season around, go from being the laughingstock of the league with no home wins to winning the Grey Cup, that would be a great story.

Alexander Hollins: Maybe Saskatchewan or Hamilton. This off-season they have made some moves to put together a pretty good squad for themselves. That puts them in the conversation to possibly go make a run to the Grey Cup.

Brady Oliveira: I’d probably pick BC just because they’ve been so close every single year. I think they’re building something special there. You see the continuity within that team and I think they are using the blueprint of what we’ve done in Winnipeg, having guys taking less money to come back and you see the continuity makes it worth it. When you have the same guys in that locker room, they get familiar with one another. You know the schemes, you know the offence, the defence inside and out when you stay with the team for a couple of years, right? So I think BC is starting to do that. 

Samuel Emilus: I’ll go with Edmonton. I’ve got five or six buddies that I’ve played with: Enock Makonzo, the Appolon twins (Woodly and Wesly Appolon), my boy Geno (Eugene Lewis). 

Tyson PhilpotFor next year? (Pauses)…I don’t want to see anybody win, but the Calgary Stampeders just because my brother is on the team, so I can at least have another ring in the family and get to enjoy my brother win the championship like he did for me last year. 

Corey Mace’s move to head coach in Saskatchewan has many of his former players convinced the Riders are on their way up this year (Riderville.com)

Reggie Begelton: Truthfully, if you’re just going off of free agency, I would say Sask. I believe in that staff, I know the majority of the guys because they were in Calgary. I know the vision that they’re going to bring and those are guys I would play for. 

DaVaris Daniels: As an observer, I think that as a fan of the game and seeing the coaching staffs around the league, I think that Saskatchewan has probably the best top-to-bottom coaching staff that I know of, just from the people that I’ve met through my career, so I will say them. If I’m not saying the Argos, I’m going to say the Saskatchewan Roughriders, because my dad is on (the coaching staff). 

Eugene Lewis: Honestly I can’t see nobody in the East right now. I think it’s a Western team. So if it wasn’t us, I  would probably go with BC. I like the quarterback situation. I like that they just got (William) Stanback. I think that’s that’s a big deal. I think that the receiver corps is good. I think they’ve got a great camaraderie as a team and I think they come together well on and off the field. 

Jamal Peters: Winnipeg. Just the consistency that they always have, they’re in the Grey Cup every year. 

James Butler: I like Saskatchewan. They got my dog, they got Jameer (Thurman) and I think Jameer brings a championship culture wherever he goes.

You’re the GM of a new CFL franchise. Who do you take first to build around? 

Houston: I’d take my new teammate, Reggie Begelton. I feel like he’s a dependable receiver. Any time the ball is in the air, he’s gonna get it. He’s owning those 50/50 balls. You can depend on him in the big moments.

Hollins: Vernon Adams Jr. He can make any throw. I’m not taking any other quarterback. He can make any throw, rolling left, rolling right, stepping up in the pocket while under pressure, whatever. If he has to use his feet, use his legs to get a first down and make a big play for his team he can do that. He’s going to do whatever he has to do to put his team in a position to win.

Oliveira: Gotta be Zach Collaros. Best quarterback in the league. I think it’s a no-brainer pick. You see his production the last couple of years. Yeah, he might be getting up there in age but look at his production the last couple of years. He is a brilliant star. The guy’s a baller and the best quarterback in the league.

Emilus: Brady Oliveira. He brings that winning game to another level. He had what, 1,500 rushing yards last year? That means the o-line is going to be on point and that’s gonna open the passing game also.

Philpot: I’m gonna pick Jeshrun Antwi. Now there’s another Canadian running back on the Alouettes. I think he’s the epitome of what you need for a Canadian franchise guy. You know, he does the special teams. He does all the hard-nosed work that is unspoken (and) goes unnoticed. But as well, when he gets his opportunity to play running back, he is a force to be reckoned with. As long as you get more touches, he’s going to be another great Canadian running back.

Willie Jefferson’s ability to disrupt make him a popular choice for players as someone to build a franchise around (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

Begelton: Probably a defensive guy. I’d start on defence. I’dl get (Cameron) Judge. I know I can’t really pick someone from my team but I mean, Judge is…he’s a cheat code. And I love that. The next one would probably be Willie J (Jefferson). He’s also another (cheat code). He’s a DB on the d-line.

Daniels: I’m gonna take Kenny Lawler. I know what he’s bringing to the table. He’s a dynamic player. He’s a playmaker. He’s a vet. He’s seen it all. He’s a champion, he’s a winner. And I think that guys would like playing with somebody like that and could follow the lead of somebody like that.

Lewis: Willie Jefferson. He’s one of those players defensively that he interrupts the plays even when he doesn’t get in the backfield. He’s so tall, he makes the quarterbacks have to throw at different angles and all that stuff. And you just have to make sure that you cover him or he’s gonna disrupt them.

Peters: Wynton McManis. All around complete player, good guy on and off the field, funny guy. Everything I like about him, he’s set for to be on somebody’s team.

Butler: I would say Jameer Thurman. He’s a pro, he’s a pro’s pro. He makes the guys around him better and he holds himself to a higher standard so he everyone else around him is at a higher standard too. 

I can’t believe _____ is still a free agent

Houston: I’m actually surprised that (Janarion Grant) is still on the board. He brings a great asset. He can turn the game around, add a spark and give you momentum, make big returns, change the ball game. I’m really surprised that he’s still on the board.

Hollins: Lucky Whitehead. He still has the speed to take the top off. He can run any route on the route tree. He’s reliable. When he gets the opportunity he’ll come in ready to work and make plays. So that’s a big shocker (that he’s still a free agent).

Oliveira: Janarion Grant shocked me because that guy is the best return specialist in the league. Just how tough he is, the guy is not big at all. One of the toughest dudes I’ve ever met. He can run through anything and he gets hit and gets back up time and time again. That’s a guy I want on my team.

Emilus: Lucky Whitehead. He definitely has speed to help any team and he has been known for making explosive plays.

Philpot: I’m a receiver, so I’ll stay within the receiver realm. I would say maybe Lucky Whitehead. You know, he’s obviously such a very well known receiver and coming from the NFL and just his pedigree. (I’m) kind of surprised he’s not on a team yet. Maybe he’s looking for Montreal. Hey, you can come join us.

Begelton: A.C. Leonard. I’m surprised he’s still a free agent. He’s a guy that can start and produce on any team and produce at a very elite level, too. 

Lucky Whitehead was frequently mentioned as a players’ pick for top free agent still available (Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca)

Daniels: Robertson Daniel. I think that when healthy, he’s probably the best boundary half in the league. Just those credentials alone should have him somewhere on some team. I just think that to be in the breath of best anything, you should have him somewhere.

Lewis: Jake Wieneke. I think Jake has so much left in the tank to still give. I think you’ve got to be in the right situation and people have to believe in him, that’s it. Treat him fairly, that’s how I feel. 

Peters: Winston Rose. That’s a shocking one. I hope somebody signs him because he’s a good guy. Good boundary corner guy that I looked up to coming into the league and a complete DB. 

Butler: I’d say my dog Jamal Morrow. I know, I heard that he might be dealing with some injury. So hopefully he can shake back from that, but I just felt like he was…he was a few carries away last year from 1,000 (yards).  He’s been there a couple times, been close a couple times. But it’s just like an ankle or he lands the wrong way, something like that. I think Morrow has still got obviously a lot in the tank. And he’s still one of the best guys in this league. 

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