Masoli, Mitchell go head to head for CFL’s top player award

As the individual accolades pile up for Jeremiah Masoli, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback is quick to give credit to those who help make him look good.

Masoli was named the East Division nominee for the CFL’s outstanding player award Thursday. It came a day after Masoli captured his first-ever division all-star nomination.

“I feel like this about any individual awards in football, it’s obviously a huge team deal,” Masoli said. “I can’t do all these things without the line blocking for me, the receivers getting open and all that stuff.

“It’s a true team game and I just give all the props to my coaches and teammates.”

Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell is the West Division nominee. Voting was conducted by the Football Reporters of Canada and nine CFL head coaches with the winner being honoured at the league’s awards banquet Nov. 22 in Edmonton.

Masoli, 30, had 5,209 passing yards (second-most) and 28 TDs (third overall) in his first full season as Hamilton’s starter. The five-foot-10, 220-pound San Francisco native registered a league-high 12 300-yard passing games in helping lead the Ticats (8-10) finish second in the East Division.

Masoli was also the league’s second-leading rusher among quarterbacks with 473 yards. He anchored the CFL’s top offence (405.6 yards per game) despite an ever-changing receiving corps as veterans Shamawd Chambers, Chris Williams, Jalen Saunders, Terrence Toliver and Brandon Banks all suffered season-ending injuries during the campaign.

Even if Hamilton doesn’t reach the Grey Cup, Masoli will have company in Alberta. Ticats linebacker Larry Dean (defensive player) and guard Brandon Revenberg (top lineman) also received East nominations.

But of more importance to Masoli is Hamilton’s East Division semifinal showdown Sunday against the B.C. Lions.

“For those honours, you can (feel pride) for sure but I think that’s a post-season type of deal,” Masoli said. “We’ve got to be locked in on B.C. right now.

“Those things are definitely nice to look back on after you’re done but right now we can’t let it be a distraction.”

Mitchell, the ’16 award winner, registered his second career 5,000-yard season (5,124) and had a league-high 35 TD strikes. Like Masoli, Mitchell played through many injuries to Calgary’s receiving corps in leading the Stampeders (13-5) atop the West Division.

Mitchell, 28, has a 69-15-2 (.814 winning percentage) record as a CFL starter, the best in league history.

Dean had 105 tackles, finishing tied for third overall with West Division nominee Adam Bighill of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Hamilton had the East’s top defence, allowing the fewest offensive yards (334.3 per game) and rushing yards (110.6).

“Larry, to me, is just a true leader and what I think of as a middle linebacker,” said Hamilton coach June Jones. “All the great ones have the leadership that he has and the ability to make plays and get guys lined up.

“He’s like a coach on the field. He’s a special guy.”

The other finalists include: running back Andrew Harris of Winnipeg and Ottawa receiver Brad Sinopoli (top Canadian); tackle Stanley Bryant of Winnipeg (top lineman); kickers Ty Long of B.C. and Ottawa’s Lewis Ward (special teams); Ward and Saskatchewan receiver Jordan Williams-Lambert (rookie); and Saskatchewan’s Chris Jones and Ottawa’s Rick Campbell (coach of the year).

Harris and Bryant are trying to win their respective honours for a second straight season.

The six-foot-four, 301-pound Revenberg, a native of Essex, Ont., completed his third season with Hamilton. Taken third overall from in the ’16 draft from Grand Valley State, the 25-year-old anchored an offensive line that protected Masoli and contributed to the CFL’s second-best passing attack (310.7 yards per game).

“It’s one of those things you feel very honoured to be in this position,” he said. “It means all the hard work has been paying off.

“The way (Hamilton) transitioned me, they made sure I didn’t lose my head at all, I kind of focused and understood along the way. It started with some reps now and then kind of rotating sometimes and at the end of it, starting.”

The five-foot-10, 230-pound Bighill has enjoyed a banner first season with Winnipeg. In addition to 105 tackles, Bighill had four sacks, two interceptions and league-best four forced fumbles in becoming the first Bomber nominated for this award since Jovon Johnson in 2011.

Harris led the CFL in rushing for a second straight year, running for a career-best 1,390 yards. The Winnipeg native also had 58 catches for 451 yards and scored 11 TDs this season.

Sinopoli posted a record-setting campaign with Ottawa. The 30-year-old native of Peterborough, Ont., had a league-high 116 catches – a single-season record for a Canadian – with 1,376 yards and four TDs and was a finalist to Harris last year.

Bryant led another solid season for Winnipeg’s offensive line. Not only did Harris top the rushing race but the Bombers scored a CFL-best 53 offensive touchdowns and allowed 36 sacks, tied for third-fewest in the league.

Ward’s two nominations come following a dominant first season. The former Ottawa Gee-Gee made 51-of-52 field goals (CFL-record 94.7 per cent), including his last 48 straight, an all-time pro football mark.

Long led the CFL in punting (48.8 yards) and net punting (38.5), averaged 65.3 yards per kickoff while converting 43-of-49 field goals (87.8 per cent) He also made all six attempts from 50-plus yards.

Williams-Lambert was Saskatchewan’s receiving leader with 62 catches for 764 yards and four TDs.

Campbell and Jones first squared off for top coach honours in 2015 when Campbell earned the honour. Ottawa (11-7) finished atop the East Division while Saskatchewan (12-6) was second in the West Division.

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