QB Collaros, Winnipeg Blue Bombers dominate CFL’s annual awards banquet

HAMILTON — The significance isn’t lost on Zach Collaros.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ quarterback was named the CFL’s outstanding player Friday night. And the 33-year-old native of Steubenville, Ohio, understood he’d joined a very select group.

“The history that goes into the MOP of this league, it’s not lost on me some of the guys who’ve won this,” Collaros said. “Warren Moon, Doug Flutie, people I looked up to growing up and didn’t even realize they were playing in the CFL.

“Ricky Ray, being a teammate of his (2012-13 with Toronto) and (somebody) I tried to emulate in my preparation and how he approached the game. And seeing Anthony Calvillo up there giving an award, another guy I really watched closely early on in my career.”

But Collaros wasn’t the only Bomber honoured. Also earning individual accolades were teammates Adam Bighill (defensive player), Stanley Bryant (lineman) and Mike O’Shea (top coach).

The four Bombers anchored a solid West Division showing as B.C. Lions linebackers Bo Lokombo (Canadian) and Jordan Williams (rookie) were also recognized. The lone East Division winner was kick-returner DeVonte Dedmon (special-teams) of the Ottawa Redblacks.

Winnipeg looks to cap a dominant season (CFL-best 11-3 record) with a second straight Grey Cup victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday at Tim Hortons field.

“Obviously any time there’s some kind of competition you want to win, right?” Collaros said. “But it’s tough to put into words because the season isn’t over yet.

“The process has been great so far, we won some awards tonight. In the future we’ll look back and think it’s pretty cool but all that matters is Sunday.”

Voting was conducted by 45 members of the Football Reporters of Canada and the nine CFL head coaches.

Collaros posted league highs in TD passes (20) and efficiency rating (111). He also completed 70.2 per cent of his passes for 3,185 yards, second-most in the CFL, to receive 43 first-place votes.

The 10-year CFL veteran led a Winnipeg offence that was first overall in offensive points scored (322), offensive TDs (35), average gain per pass (8.4 yards) and passing efficiency (101.5). And since being dealt to the Bombers late in 2019, Collaros is 15-2 as the starter.

Collaros is Winnipeg’s first MOP since receiver Milt Stegall in 2002. CFL rushing leader William Stanback of the Montreal Alouettes was the finalist.

The five-foot-10, 219-pound Bighill received 42 first-place votes to claim a third top defensive player award (2015 with B.C., ’18 with Winnipeg). He had 70 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a TD but felt the honour was a team award.

“The stats speak for themselves and that’s definitely a lot more than one person,” Bighill said. “I’m part of the collective group.

“This could’ve been another couple of guys that were definitely worthy and obviously humbled to be the one chosen.”

Winnipeg allowed the fewest offensive points (12.9 per game), offensive touchdowns (15), net offence (281.3), forced the most turnovers (38). Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence was the finalist.

The six-foot-five, 306-pound Bryant secured 50 votes to become Winnipeg’s first three-time top lineman winner. He anchored an offensive front that allowed a league-low 16 sacks while the Bombers were second in CFL rushing (119.7 yards per game) and tops in running TDs (14).

“I’m just blessed and happy to be in this situation,” Bryant said. “Just having a year off through the pandemic, a lot of things were uncertain.

“Being able to come back and play at a consistent level and show I can still play the game of football was one of the (most) special things I’ve ever done in my career.”

Hamilton’s Brandon Revenberg was the finalist.

The Bombers’ .786 win percentage under O’Shea was their best since 1961. And despite playing a condensed 14-game schedule, Winnipeg reached double-digit wins for a fifth straight year.

In his acceptance speech, O’Shea named some the coaches who influenced him. Some were recognizable, like Don Sutherin, Wally Buono and the late Don Matthews. But he also paid tribute to his mother, Lynda, who coached ringette in his hometown.

“My mom was probably the first coach I watched,” O’Shea said. “There’s a lot of those coaches I read off that I can just remember something very specific they said to me that made a difference.

“It’s not a full list but I thought it was important to acknowledge those coaches. I’ve never been on a team with Wally Buono but I think we have because we’ve been in the CFL and if you’ve been in the CFL, Wally Buono is going to try and help you.”

O’Shea, 51, of North Bay, Ont., received 47 first-place votes in becoming the sixth Winnipeg coach to claim the award but first in 20 years. Ryan Dinwiddie of the Toronto Argonauts was the finalist.

Sara May, a registered nurse with Hamilton Health Services, received the Commissioner’s Award for outstanding contributions to the league. She represented all frontline workers who’ve served nationally throughout the pandemic.

Commissioner Randy Ambrosie also presented the Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award to Dr. Bob McCormack and Dr. Dhiren Naidu. They’re the league’s chief medical officers who established and maintained the CFL’s health-and-safety protocols.

Hamilton tackle Chris Van Zeyl received the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award as the Canadian player who demonstrates the attributes of Canada’s veterans.

Carol Longmuir, the B.C. Lions’ director of finance and administration, received the Jane Mawby Tribute Award, which recognizes a highly-valued, yet unsung current league or club employee. Hamilton safety Mike Daly claimed the Tom Pate award for sportsmanship and community service.

Lokombo received 50 votes after registering 66 tackles — five short of his career high. He added 11 special-teams tackles, four sacks and a career-high three interceptions.

Lokombo was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, moved to Montreal at the age of six before settling with his family in Abbotsford, B.C. He was pleased to be honoured on the same night as Williams.

“It’s pretty special,” Lokombo said. “He and I came in with the mindset to get better every day.

“He was somebody who loved the game as much as I do. To work with somebody like that is special. I’m happy for him. We’re going to celebrate and enjoy this.”

Montreal defensive lineman David Menard was the finalist.

Dedmon, who received 46 first-place votes, led the CFL in return touchdowns (three), punt return yards (737) and average (15.4), kickoff return yardage (1,223) and kickoff return average (25.0).

“The Redblacks took a chance on a guy from William & Mary,” Dedmon said. “Not a lot of calls came after graduating from college.

“I’m just excited to be here and loving the moment. I’m just very grateful for the opportunity.”

Calgary Stampeders kicker Rene Paredes was the finalist.

Williams, the first player taken in the ’20 CFL draft, had 92 tackles to break O’Shea’s record for most tackles by a Canadian rookie (75 in 1993 with Hamilton). Williams, who had 46 first-place votes, is an American by birth but was deemed a Canadian by the CFL because his mother is from Toronto.

In 2019, he nearly signed with Ottawa before opting to get his Canadian citizenship and enter the draft.

“There were a lot of trials and tribulations but we got through it and look where I am now,” Williams said. “It’s beautiful.

“To be an elite athlete you’ve got to have something about you that’s crazy . . .I just kept that mindset until I got to report to a camp.”

Toronto offensive lineman Peter Nicastro was the finalist.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2021.

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