With the season winding down, it is time to start figuring out which Ticats should be bestowed with most outstanding player honours. I will admit that most of these decisions were not easy. In fact, just one out of the six awards, to me, is a no-brainer. There is an argument to be made for the guy I selected and a handful of other players in the other five categories.
So with that, here is how I filled out my ballot for the most outstanding player awards.
Most Outstanding Player: Luke Tasker
This was by far the hardest decision. As I wrote on Wednesday, I thought there were three viable candidates: Tasker, Terrell Sinkfield and Zach Collaros.
I just couldn’t vote for Collaros, despite how great of a season he had, because he will have only played in just over 11 games when the season concludes. He would have been the hands down, slam dunk pick if he stayed healthy, but he didn’t. And I know people will bring up Ricky Ray and his 2013 East MOP nod, but two things: (1) I had no hand in that decision, unlike this one; (2) I didn’t like the decision. If I was against Ray getting it for half a season’s work, how can I justify giving it to Collaros for two-thirds of a season’s work? I can’t.
So it came down to Tasker and Sinkfield, and I went with Tasker. There numbers are very similar, and they will likely end the season Nos. 1 and 2 on the Ticats in most receiving categories. And while Sinkfield has had a tremendous breakout season, I give the edge ever-so-slightly to Tasker.
Most Outstanding Defensive Player: Simoni Lawrence
Another award where you could make a case for someone other than the guy I picked. Taylor Reed has been almost as impactful as Lawrence week in and week out; Emanuel Davis has five interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns; Justin Hickman has eight sacks. There are a number of excellent candidates for the award, but ultimately I decided to give it to Lawrence. He leads the team in tackles and has been a playmaking force on a playmaking defense all season. If Lawrence isn’t the best linebacker in the CFL, he is in the conversation. That is enough to make him my top defensive player on the Ticats.
Most Outstanding Canadian: Courtney Stephen
This was the hardest decision outside MOP. Ted Laurent has been an absolute beast since arriving in Hamilton, but his 2015 campaign hasn’t produced the same numbers as his stellar 2014 one did. While it is hard to judge an interior defensive lineman based on stats alone, his three sacks in 2015 is one-third his 2014 total. Yes, he faces more double teams and his ability to clog the middle allows for other players to make plays at the expense of his own numbers, but Hamilton’s defensive line has been somewhat lacklustre recently, and that includes Laurent.
So when push came to shove, I decided on Stephen, who is having himself an all-star calibre season for the Ticats at the wide-side corner spot. He doesn’t see much action, but he makes the most of his opportunities, picking up four interceptions and amassing 40 tackles on the season. Stephen is no longer just a Canadian who plays corner, but he is a corner who just happens to be Canadian. He would start in this league regardless of his passport (and in fairness, so would Laurent). That says a lot.
Most Outstanding Rookie: Terence Toliver
This was the only award where I didn’t really have to think. Toliver was the team’s top receiver for most of the season, until he was injured and missed the last three games (though he is expected to return). He was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season before injuries derailed him, and he is still third in catches, yards and tied for first in receiving touchdowns. Hamilton has had to shuffle their lineup quite a bit, but Toliver earned his spot in training camp. The no-doubt top rookie on the Ticats in 2015.
Most Outstanding Lineman: Mike Filer
Always the hardest award to pick because, let’s be honest, very few pay attention to the offensive line unless they are screwing up. But once the team’s whipping boy — I saw comments saying he should be cut last year — Mike Filer has turned into a fan favourite. It takes time to learn the intricacies of the centre position, and Filer has picked it up rather quickly. In just his second season as a starter, Filer has become of the team’s most dependable players and one of the league’s best centres. Ryan Bomben also deserves credit for his stellar first season in Hamilton, but injuries have cost him a lot of games this year and he looks to be done for the year. Filer, who has started every game this season, is the guy who deserves the award this year.
Most Outstanding Special Teams Player: Brandon Banks
This came down to two people: Brandon Banks and Justin Medlock.
The case for Banks: four return touchdowns and the most dangerous player in the league with the football in his hands.
The case for Medlock: league leader in points and he has connected on 88.7 per cent of his field goals.
The pick is Banks. (And don’t forget, Banks still has two games remaining against the Ottawa Redblacks and their horrendous special teams unit, so that four could go up significantly before the season is over.)