Burris, Mitchell lead CFL player award nominees


Henry Burris is proving age is just a state of mind.

The 40-year-old Ottawa Redblacks quarterback was named a finalist for the CFL’s outstanding player award Thursday in voting by the Football Reporters of Canada and league head coaches. Calgary Stampeders star Bo Levi Mitchell was the West Division nominee.

Burris had a CFL-record 481 completions and career-best 5,693 yards to become the oldest passing leader in league history. Burris, the 2010 award winner, was instrumental in Ottawa (12-6) finishing atop the East Division after winning just twice in its inaugural 2014 campaign.

“It proves all of his detractors wrong, and there were many last year, a lot of people who chose not to understand what our situation was as an expansion team,” said Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins. “It shows how professional he is in his preparation, be it physical, mental or even spiritual.

“The guy is committed to his craft on all levels and does everything he can to best prepare himself each week.”

Burris had a league-record 45 completions in a win Oct. 1 versus Montreal and six TD passes in last weekend’s 44-28 home victory over Hamilton. Burris posted a stellar 70.9-per cent completion percentage with 26 TDs against 13 interceptions after throwing more picks (14) than touchdowns (11) in 2014.

Desjardins believes Burris came into 2015 with something to prove.

“I think deep down he feels he’s the same guy this year as last year,” Desjardins said. “Any time anybody gets criticized you want to try and prove people wrong, that’s just human nature.

“There were a lot of issues (last year) that weren’t of his making but he was the one everyone pointed the finger at.”

Mitchell took to social media to applaud Burris’s season.

“Congrats to @HenryBurris on East Nominee! 40 or not, what you did this year was truly amazing. Great reg. season. Now the fun begins,” he tweeted.

Mitchell, the 2014 Grey Cup MVP, was second in CFL passing (4,551 yards) as Calgary (14-4) finished second in the West Division. He’s the sixth Stampeder in eight years to be named a finalist for the award, including Burris in 2008 and ’10.

Mitchell’s 13 wins as a starter were a league high and he had six 300-yard passing games. Mitchell is 28-6 overall, the best record of any quarterback through his first 34 career starts.

The other nominees include: linebackers Adam Bighill of the B.C. Lions and Simoni Lawrence of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (defensive player); Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive lineman Jamaal Westerman and Ottawa Redblacks receiver Brad Sinopoli (Canadian); B.C.’s Jovan Olafioye and Ottawa’s SirVincent Rogers (lineman); Calgary Stampeders kicker Rene Paredes and Hamilton kick-returner Brandon Banks (special-teams); and receivers Derel Walker of the Edmonton Eskimos and Vidal Hazelton of the Toronto Argonauts (rookie).

Earlier on Thursday, Ottawa’s Rick Campbell and Edmonton’s Chris Jones were named finalists for coach-of-the-year honours. The CFL will unveil its top individual performers Nov. 26 in Winnipeg.

Bighill recorded a CFL- and career-high 117 tackles this season. The five-foot-10 230-pound linebacker also had four sacks, an interception and fumble recovery.

The six-foot-one 228-pound Lawrence recorded career highs in tackles (80) and sacks (five). The four-year veteran added two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.

The six-foot-three 249-pound Westerman had a banner first season with Winnipeg, finishing second overall in sacks (17) with 61 tackles. The native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who grew up in Brampton, Ont., was also the Bombers’ pick as outstanding player and defensive player.

Sinopoli, a Peterborough, Ont., native, was the CFL’s top Canadian receiver with 1,035 yards on 86 receptions with a league-high 471 yards after the catch. Sinopoli played quarterback at the University of Ottawa, winning the 2010 Hec Crighton Trophy as Canadian university football’s top player.

The six-foot-six 325-pound Olafioye earned his third top lineman nomination, winning the award in 2012. The 27-year-old Detroit native anchored the Lions’ offensive line that allowed just 34 sacks, one behind league leaders Montreal and Calgary.

Rogers is completing his first season in Ottawa after signing as a free agent. The six-foot-four 319-pound Texan started all 18 regular-season games at left tackle, protecting Burris’s blind side.

Parades made 41 of 47 field goals (87.2 per cent) and was the CFL’s second-leading scorer with 156 points. The league’s top special-teams player in 2013, Paredes is looking to become just the second player to win the honour twice, joining Saskatchewan’s Corey Holmes (2002, ’05).

Banks had four punt-return TDs, one shy of the league mark. The five-foot-seven 153-pound dynamo was third overall in all-purpose yards (2,073) and punt return yards (930) and last weekend against Ottawa became the first CFL player to return a missed convert for a score.

Walker had 89 catches (Edmonton rookie record) for 1,110 yards and six TDs despite playing only 12 games (10 starts). Hazelton led all Toronto receivers with 70 catches for 803 yards and six touchdowns and looks to become the first Argo to win the award since Derrell (Mookie) Mitchell in 1997.

– CP