This has been a strange season for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and that’s made selecting the team’s 2016 award winners tougher than usual.
The Ticats have a lousy 7-10 record but are still in second place in the East Division and will host a playoff game on Nov. 13: it can be tough to find “outstanding” performers on a team that’s struggled much of the year. To make things even more difficult, Hamilton has been ravaged by injury, with only 16 players appearing in all 17 games so far this season.
Nonetheless, it has to be done. Ballots were due by midnight on Oct. 30 – the initial round of voting on team awards takes place with one game left in the regular season to allow time for East Division awards as well as CFL honours and all-star selections.
Voters are selected by the Hamilton chapter chair of the Football Reporters of Canada – in this case, that’s me. Here are the seven media members, along with head coach Kent Austin, who cast ballots.
Drew Edwards, the Hamilton Spectator and 3DownNation
Steve Milton, the Hamilton Spectator and 3DownNation
Josh Smith, 3DownNation
Marshall Ferguson, TSN1150
John Salavantis, TSN1150
Jamie Thomas, TSN1150
Rick Zamperin, CHML
Most Outstanding Player: Andy Fantuz, receiver
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have used two quarterbacks – typically strong Most Outstanding Player candidates – but limited action means neither Zach Collaros (nine starts) or Jeremiah Masoli (eight starts) have posted particularly gaudy numbers. They currently rank seventh and eighth in the CFL in passing yards, though Collaros is fourth in touchdown passes with 18.
However, the team does have two 1,000-yard receivers – Canadian Andy Fantuz and American Terrence Toliver– in a season where 13 players have already reached that milestone (and four more have a legitimate shot.) Fantuz, who will miss the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs with a torn ACL, also set a franchise record with 101 catches this season (he’s currently fourth in the CFL, though will likely drop a couple of notches.)
There are a couple of defensive players worth considering as well. Linebacker Simoni Lawrence is having another terrific all-around season while defensive end John Chick is second in the CFL with 14 sacks.
Still, Fantuz deserves the nod. As the other high-profile Ticat receivers were lost to injury – Chad Owens, Luke Tasker have both been out for extended stretches while Toliver missed four games – the 32-year-old ramped up his production. Fantuz was targeted a team-leading 128 times this season and caught 79 per cent of those passes, including 30 for first downs.
Game in and game out, Fantuz has been the team’s most consistent player. That he will finish the season on the injured list is disappointment but also depressingly appropriate.
Most Outstanding Defensive Player: Simoni Lawrence, linebacker
This award is a battle between linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who does a lot of things well but doesn’t have a singularly spectacular statistic, and defensive end John Chick, who has a ton of sacks.
Lawrence has 89 defensive tackles, four sacks, four pass knockdowns, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception. Those are impressive numbers but still don’t do justice to his versatility and athletic ability, not to mention his leadership. Lawrence is as complete a defensive player as there is in the league.
Chick has proven he still has plenty in the tank at age 33, registering 14 sacks to go along with 38 tackles. Both players have been durable, playing in all 17 games so far this season. Middle linebacker Larry Dean (78 tackles) and defensive end Adrian Tracy (seven sacks, 59 tackles) also deserve consideration, as does Canadian defensive tackle Ted Laurent.
Most Outstanding Canadian: Andy Fantuz, receiver
While Fantuz was a relatively easy pick as MOP, he had strong competition for the Canadian award from defensive tackle Ted Laurent, who was the East Division nominee in this category in 2014.
Laurent was his usual disruptive self while playing 16 of a possible 17 games this season, registering eight sacks and 26 tackles as well as a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He maintains a reputation as one of the CFL’s best at his position – regardless of nationality.
Most Outstanding Special Teams player: Brandon Banks, kick returner
This was another tough call between Banks, who returned a league-leading three kicks for touchdowns this season, and Canadian linebacker Frederic Plesius, who is currently second in the CFL in special teams tackles with 23. Kicker Brett Maher was a candidate as well before a late-season swoon that’s seen him miss five of his last 14 field goal attempts – including some crucial ones.
Banks is fifth in the CFL with 2,023 kick return yards, despite missing two games due to a suspension for violating the CFL’s drug policy. He now has 10 career kick return touchdowns, just two behind Earl Winfield on the Ticat list and fifth in CFL history.
Most Outstanding lineman: Ryan Bomben, guard
Bomben is the only Ticat offensive lineman to start all 17 games this year – given the team’s injury luck, that alone is worthy of an award. But Bomben has also been excellent, helping a unit that’s seen virtually constant personnel change – not to mention two different quarterbacks – surrender a respectable 34 sacks (fifth in the CFL but just three more than second-place Edmonton.)
The best thing about Bomben: he’s under contract for two more seasons.
Most Outstanding rookie: Brandon Revenberg, offensive lineman
It’s rare that Canadian draft picks can make significant contributions in their first season but Revenberg, selected No. 3 by the Ticats last May, has been an impact player as a rookie.
Not only has he appeared in all 17 games this season but he’s made six starts, including one at right tackle – virtually unheard of for a first-year national. He looks to be a significant building block for the Ticats in the future.