CFL Awards: All Stamps, all the time

After a dominant 2016 season, Bo Levi Mitchell and the Calgary Stampeders dominated the CFL awards banquet Thursday night.

Mitchell was a unanimous selection as outstanding player and led a West Division sweep of the top individual honours. The other winners included Calgary teammates Jerome Messam (Canadian), Derek Dennis (lineman) and DaVaris Daniels (rookie) along with Dave Dickenson (coach), B.C. Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian (defensive player) and kicker Justin Medlock of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (special-teams player).

Mitchell said Calgary’s dominance Thursday was “deserved” and it’s stellar season was fuelled by the pundits who felt the Stampeders wouldn’t be Grey Cup contenders this year. But on Sunday, they’ll face the Ottawa Redblacks in the CFL championship game at BMO Field.

“We said we know people don’t want us to succeed, they want us to fail (so) let’s go prove them wrong,” Mitchell said. “We’re just so excited to be at this point right now, we know we’re supposed to be here.”

And despite receiving the CFL’s top individual honour, Mitchell hasn’t lost sight of why he’s here.

“It’s cool to get an individual award,” he said. “But I’m going to go home and put this trophy and suit in the closet and pull out my gameplan and get ready for Sunday.”

The East Division finalists were receiver Earnest Jackson (outstanding player), centre Jon Gott (lineman), offensive lineman Jason Lauzon-Sequin (rookie) and Rick Campbell (coach) of Ottawa, slotback Andy Fantuz (Canadian) and kick-returner Brandon Banks (special-teams player) of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes linebacker Bear Woods (defensive player).

Voting was conducted by 64 members of the Football Reporters of Canada and the nine CFL head coaches.

Jason Colero received the Commissioner’s Award for his 30-plus years with Toronto while Argonauts defensive back Matt Black claimed the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award for exemplifying the attributes of Canadian veterans.

B.C. Lions receiver Marco Iannuzzi received the Tom Pate award for community service while the late Norm Kwong, who died at age 86 in September, was presented the Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership award.

The West Division dominated the CFL in 2016, with four of its five teams making the postseason. Fourth-place Edmonton (10-8) earned the crossover by accumulating more points than third-place Montreal (7-11) but actually finished with a better record than East-leading Ottawa (8-9-1).

West teams were 28-11-1 versus their East rivals.

Mitchell, a finalist to Ottawa’s Henry Burris for last year’s outstanding player award, enjoyed a stellar campaign. He led Calgary to a 15-1-1 record in his 17 starts _ he didn’t play in the club’s season-ending loss to Montreal _ and anchored the CFL’s most potent offence.

Mitchell, 26, was second overall in passing with 5,385 yards and threw a CFL-high 32 TD passes. He has amassed a stellar 43-7-1 regular-season record as Calgary’s starter and will look to become the first Stampeders quarterback to win two Grey Cups on Sunday.

Mitchell guided Calgary to a 20-16 Grey Cup victory over Hamilton in 2014.

The six-foot-three, 254-pound Messam earned 63 votes after leading the CFL in rushing with 1,198 yards. The 31-year-old Toronto native, who grew up in Brampton, Ont., averaged a solid 5.8 yards per attempt and also ran for 11 TDs in being named top Canadian for the second time (2011).

“I’ve worked hard throughout my career to be a complete player and be thought of as a great player, on and off the field,” Messam said. “To get this award late in my career shows how far I’ve come.”

The six-foot-one, 341-pound Dennis received 59 votes after making 15 starts at left tackle, two at left guard and one at right guard. The CFL sophomore anchored an offensive line that allowed a league-low 20 sacks and helped pave the way for Messam.

“I want to thank my quarterback Bo for getting the ball out of his hands in three seconds or less to make my job easier,” said Dennis, who dyed his hair red. “To my boy Mess, thank-you for not running into me . . . and a big shout-out to my O-line, I wouldn’t be here without my guys.”

The six-foot-one, 207-pound Daniels, a Notre Dame alumnus, had 51 catches for 885 yards and nine TDs in 11 games. He received 58 first-place votes and paid tribute to former teammate Mylan Hicks, a defensive back who was murdered in September.

“I’ve never been around somebody who had such an impact on me,” Daniels said. “He prepared me for this moment.”

It was a rookie season to remember for Dickenson, whose 15 victories was a CFL single-season record for a first-year head coach. He received 72 votes.

“It’s a good start, only down from here,” Dickenson joked. “To be honoured is great but I am a reflection of my players.

“I also believe the coach of the year should be the staff of the year . . . I trust in my staff and believe they’ve done an outstanding job.”

The 2016 campaign was a comeback for the six-foot, 227-pound Elimimian, who received 52 votes. The CFL’s outstanding player and top defensive player in 2014 suffered a career-threatening Achilles injury last year but returned to post a league-high 129 tackles with eight sacks and an interception.

“My father always told me there were three guarantees in life: death, taxes and adversity,” Elimimian said. “This is probably my proudest moment individually.”

Medlock, 33, captured 61 votes after making a CFL-record 60 field goals this season, his first with Winnipeg. He was also the league’s scoring leader (227 points) and made all 40 converts he attempted.

Medlock helped Winnipeg improve to 11-7 and make the playoffs this season after posting a 5-13 mark in 2015.

“It was a goal since the first day I walked into Investors Group Field and saw the ‘Most Outstanding Special-Teams Player,”’ said Medlock. “I was hoping to get on that wall, it feels good.”

– CP