Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea isn’t a big fan of individual accolades, particularly given the timing of the CFL’s annual awards.
“These things come out at the exact wrong time — right at the end of the year when you’re trying to focus on team. You’re taking the greatest team sport on earth and sticking individual accolades on people, on teammates,” said O’Shea via videoconference.
All nine CFL teams unveiled their nominees for the league’s year-end player awards on Wednesday. Zach Collaros, Adam Bighill, Nic Demski, Stanley Bryant, Mike Miller, and DeAundre Alford were nominated by Winnipeg, many of whom will receive serious consideration to win at the league level.
Bighill received Winnipeg’s nomination for Most Outstanding Defensive Player, beating out players like Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat, and Brandon Alexander. O’Shea believes “more than a handful” of Winnipeg’s defenders could have received the nomination but spoke highly of Bighill and all that he’s accomplished in his ninth CFL season.
“When [Bighill] says, ‘I’m in the best shape of his life’ he’s not kidding. That’s how hard he works and how hard he prepares. Besides the obvious stats that show up, which are very, very good, the versatility he provides the defence — the amount of different positions that we ask him to be in — he flourishes in all those assignments,” said O’Shea.
“Some of them don’t result in any type of recognition or stat — he’s moving around and creating a problem for the blocking scheme or the quarterback’s read and that’s not even discussing his leadership off the field.”
O’Shea indicated that Bighill was in Winnipeg’s facility before dawn on Wednesday to study film on the Calgary Stampeders alongside safety Brandon Alexander. Winnipeg secured first place in the West Division weeks ago, but it’s clear that Bighill is still going the extra mile to ensure he and his teammates are prepared for Saturday’s regular season finale.
The 33-year-old linebacker took a huge pay cut to remain with the Blue Bombers following the cancelled 2020 season but never used that as an excuse to reduce his role on the team.
“I always play with a chip on my shoulder. [The pay cut] gave me a little bit more for sure. I’m not going to say that helped me play better or do anything more but it’s something that I felt like I needed to prove — that I can play at an elite level and be one of the best players in this league,” said Bighill.
“He’s been phenomenal as expected, as he expects,” said O’Shea. “The sacrifices he made never affected him as a pro. He kept that away from the building and in the off-season went to work every single day to make sure that when he stepped on the field at training camp he was as prepared as he’d ever been.”
Bighill has been named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player on two previous occasions: in 2015 with B.C. and in 2018 with Winnipeg. This nomination feels special for him given the nature of the talent around him on the league’s best defence.
“Being named as the defensive player on this team probably means more than it’s ever meant getting a nomination for me,” said Bighill. “Just the amount of guys that we have in this locker room that really are candidates, it’s very humbling and a great feeling to have that nomination.”
O’Shea gave quarterback Zach Collaros a vote of confidence when asked if a defensive player should have received the club’s nomination for Most Outstanding Player given the unit’s season-long dominance. Collaros leads the league in passing touchdowns and quarterback rating, though the defence has played at a historically high level.
“I think in various years it’s always possible. This year, once again, there’s a whole handful of guys that are very deserving. I do think that if you look at the season overall, Zach’s had an unbelievable season for us. He’s been fantastic for our team, so I think he’s very deserving.”