Burris leads Redblack domination of CFL player awards

Henry Burris

WINNIPEG – Henry Burris and the Ottawa Redblacks dominated the CFL awards banquet Thursday night.

The 40-year-old quarterback was named the CFL’s outstanding player for the second time and also received the Tom Pate award for community service. Burris shared the spotlight at the Club Regent Casino with Ottawa coach Rick Campbell (coach of the year), receiver Brad Sinopoli (top Canadian) and tackle SirVincent Rogers (top lineman).

Hugh Campbell was the ’79 coach of the year with Edmonton, making the Campbells the first father-son winners in CFL history.

With his parents, wife and two young sons looking on, Burris immediately paid tribute to family.

“To go through the tough first season trying to build a new product in the capital city, we went through a lot of heartache,” he said. “That’s stuff that can be hard on a family at home.

“For my wife, Nicole, to be able to handle all the stresses of raising two knucklehead sons by herself, I mean, wow. She’s my rock, she makes me the man I am today and when I was being a knucklehead myself she stood by my side throughout this entire journey.”

On Sunday, Burris and Co. face the Edmonton Eskimos in the Grey Cup. Awards voting was conducted by 75 members of the Football Reporters of Canada.

Other winners included B.C. Lions linebacker Adam Bighill (defensive player), Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ kick-returner Brandon Banks (special-teams player) and Edmonton receiver Derel Walker (rookie). Bernie Custis, 87, who in 1951 became pro football’s first black starting quarterback with Hamilton, received the Commissioner’s award while Montreal Alouettes tackle Jeff Perrett claimed the Jack Gaudaur Veterans’ trophy.

Burris had a CFL-record 481 completions and led the league in passing with 5,703 yards. He won his first outstanding player honour in 2010 with Calgary.

Burris also helped Ottawa (12-6) engineer an amazing turnaround, finishing atop the East Division standings after winning just two games in its inaugural 2-14 campaign. Burris had twice as many TD passes (26) as interceptions after throwing more picks (14) than touchdowns (11) last year.

“The bottom line I couldn’t do this without my teammates, I can’t do this without the coaching staff, I can’t do this without the personnel staff, our owners, fans,” Burris said. “To bring in a guy like (offensive co-ordinator) Jason Maas, a guy who was my adversary, my foe for so many years . . . whoever thought he was the best thing in disguise for me waiting to happen in the future.

“It’s been an amazing journey for me this year on probably one of the best teams I’ve ever played for and one of the best group of guys I’ve ever played with. That’s what the power of team can be all about because a quarterback can’t do it all by himself.”

Calgary Stampeders quaterback Bo Levi Mitchell, the 2014 Grey Cup MVP, was the finalist.

Sinopoli, a native of Peterborough, Ont., won the Hec Crighton Trophy as a quarterback at the University of Ottawa. Sinopoli was the CFL’s top Canadian receiver with 1,035 yards on 86 receptions with a league-high 471 yards after the catch in his first season with the Redblacks.

“I’ve been a CFL fan ever since I can remember,” Sinopoli said. “To be in this league, I am so thankful about it.”

Jamaal Westerman of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a New York native who grew up in Brampton, Ont., was the finalist.

The six-foot-four, 319-pound Rogers was a key off-season pickup for Ottawa, starting all 18 games at left tackle protecting Burris’s blind side. B.C.’s Jovan Olafioye, the 2012 award winner, was the finalist.

Rogers thanked each of his offensive line teammates by name and also paid tribute to his mother, Alfrieda, who died in 2011.

“I know she would be proud,” Rogers said. “Thank you mom, I’m still trying to go hard.”

Chris Jones was the coach-of-the-year finalist after Edmonton finished tied with Calgary for the league’s best mark of 14-4 but secured top spot in the West after winning the season series.

“Chris, congratulations on your great year, I hope it ends badly,” Campbell said with a smile. “Wow, this is wild.

“This isn’t my award. We all know football is the ultimate team game.”

Bighill becomes the second straight Lion to be named top defensive player after teammate Solomon Elimimian won it last year as well as the CFL’s outstanding player award. Bighill recorded a CFL- and career-high 121 tackles this season while adding four sacks, an interception and fumble recovery.

“Wow,” Bighill said. “The last five years I’ve been living my dream and I have to thank the B.C. Lions for that.

“For all young people, don’t let anyone determine what you can do . . . don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”

Hamilton linebacker Simoni Lawrence was the finalist.

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 became the first CFL player to return a missed convert for a score.

“I just want to thank the CFL and my team and coaching staff for putting me in a great position to be successful,” he said. “Last but not least, I want to thank my teammates.

“Without them I can’t run a punt or kick back. I hate getting touched and they do a great job of keeping me from being hit.”

Calgary kicker Rene Paredes, the 2013 award winner, was the finalist.

Walker enjoyed a stellar first season with 89 catches (Edmonton rookie record) for 1,110 yards and six TDs despite playing only 12 games (10 starts). Toronto’s Vidal Hazelton was the finalist.

Walker said when his opportunity to play came, he was ready although he added he required time to adjust to the Canadian game.

“I feel they developed me when I was on the practice roster,” he said. “I was learning the system because it’s clearly different than American football.

“Opportunities don’t come along too often so you have to hit the ground running”

Drew Edwards is the founder of 3DownNation but has since wandered off. Beard in the photo not exactly as shown.