2022 Hec Crighton Trophy watch list: 10 candidates to take home U Sports’ most prestigious award

Photo courtesy: GetMyPhoto.ca/Saskatchewan Huskies

First presented in 1967, the Hec Crighton Trophy represents the pinnacle of achievement for any football player in Canada.

This country’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy is awarded annually to the most outstanding player in U Sports. The list of winners is long and illustrious, featuring NFL draft picks, future Most Outstanding Canadian winners, and Hall of Famers.

The impact of the award has already been felt in the CFL this season, as 2021 recipient Tre Ford was drafted eighth overall by the Edmonton Elks and became the first Canadian university quarterback to start and win a regular-season game since 1985.

With the 2022 U Sports season kicking off across the country on Saturday, 3DownNation has compiled a preseason watch list for Canada’s most coveted collegiate award.

Here are the ten players with the best chance to lift the Hec at the end of this season.

Photo courtesy: Kyran Thicke/Concordia Stingers

Olivier Roy, Quarterback, Concordia Stingers (Donnaconna, Que.)

Roy’s breakout 2021 season briefly seemed to introduce newfound parity into the two-horse race RSEQ, as he tossed for 2,470 yards, 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions in eight regular season games. A riverboat gambler with the football, all three of those numbers led the country and he took home the RSEQ’s MVP honours, ultimately losing the Hec Crighton race to dual-threat sensation Ford. With stud receivers like Jeremy Murphy and Jaylan Greaves still at his disposal, Roy is the odds-on favourite to collect the trophy this year.

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Huskies

Mason Nyhus, Quarterback, Saskatchewan Huskies (Regina, Sask.)

The Huskies are known for their unstoppable run game but it was a huge leap forward by Nyhus that propelled them to the Vanier Cup final last year. In ten games, regular season and playoffs, the veteran pivot tossed for 2,686 yards, 22 touchdowns and just four interceptions, numbers that are sure to increase with Adam Machart now retired. The Hec can occasionally veer into career recognition award territory, another factor that will favour a fifth-year quarterback like Nyhus.

Photo courtesy: Brandon VandeCaveye/Western Mustangs

Keon Edwards, Running Back, Western Mustangs (Toronto, Ont.)

The reigning U Sports rushing leader, Edwards racked up 163 more yards than the next best back during the 2022 regular season and continued his torrid pace in the run to Western’s Vanier Cup championship. All told, he carried 118 times in 11 games for 1,264 yards and 16 touchdowns. In a full season, he could post Hec-worthy numbers, but voters may see success from the Mustangs’ entire stable of backs and look elsewhere.

Photo courtesy: University of Montreal Carabins

Jonathan Senecal, Quarterback, Montreal Carabins (Montreal, Que.)

Having passed up a chance to play Division 1 football at UConn in favour of staying home with the Carabins, Jonathan Senecal did not disappoint as a freshman. He tossed for 1,530 yards, nine touchdowns and five picks in six regular season outings but has only just begun to scratch the surface of the potential that made him one of the nation’s top recruits. A step forward in year two while playing for one of the sport’s marquee programs would be hard to ignore in the end-of-year award conversation.

Photo courtesy: Guelph Gryphons

Clark Barnes, Receiver, Guelph Gryphons (Brampton, Ont.)

The top-rated U Sports prospect on 3DownNation‘s recent 2023 CFL Draft rankings, Barnes sets himself apart from his collegiate peers both as a receiver and returner. The former Maine commit had 354 yards and five touchdowns through the air in just four games played last season, while adding the fourth kickoff return touchdown of his young career. His role in both phases should expand dramatically with the departure of Kiondre Smith to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, giving him an outside shot to be the first receiver to take home the Hec since Andy Fantuz in 2005.

Photo courtesy: Piper Sports Photography/Regina Rams

Josh Donnelly, Quarterback, Regina Rams (Regina, Sask.)

Something of a forgotten man in the U Sports quarterbacking conversation, Donnelly was on a fantastic pace early in 2021 before he lost the rest of the season to injury. In just three games, he tossed for eight touchdowns and only two picks while averaging 246 passing yards per contest. If Donnelly can keep up that ratio over the course of a full season, trophies could await.

Photo courtesy: Bob Frid/UBC Athletics

Garrett Rooker, Quarterback, UBC Thunderbirds (League City, Texas)

UBC’s surprising cross-border import took the reins as a freshman and ushered the young Thunderbirds back to the playoffs, earning himself Canada West rookie of the year honours in the process. Rooker completed nearly 69 percent of his passes for 1,437 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions while the run game stole focus in his first season, but a pair of stalwart tackles and a developmental leap from his receiving corps could cause his numbers to skyrocket.

Photo courtesy: Bryan Kennedy/St. FX Athletics

Malcolm Bussey, Running Back, St. Francis Xavier X-Men (Hammonds Plains, N.S.)

X-Men quarterback and reigning AUS MVP Silas Fagnan would seem to be the likeliest candidate to break Atlantic Canada’s 15-year Hec Crighton drought but his second-year running back could be even more exciting. Bussey was third in the country with 666 yards rushing as a freshman but scored just two touchdowns. If more endzone touches come his way this season, you’ll have to look long and hard to find a more dynamic weapon in the conference.

Photo courtesy: Laval Rouge et Or

Kevin Mital, Receiver, Laval Rouge et Or (Saint-Hubert, Que.)

Another freshman sensation on a list heavy with them due to the cancelled 2020 season, Mital dropped many jaws when he left Syracuse to join the Rouge et Or. He was named a second team All-Canadian in his first campaign, posting 554 yards and seven touchdowns in eight games. While other receivers had slightly bigger numbers, Mital accounted for almost 64 percent of Laval’s passing touchdowns in 2021.

Photo courtesy: Brandon VandeCaveye/Western Mustangs

Evan Hillock, Quarterback, Western Mustangs (Hamilton, Ont.)

When you’re the reigning Vanier Cup champions, you get two players on the Hec Crighton watch list and one of them has to be the MVP. Hillock became the most efficient passer in the country after seizing the Mustangs’ top job mid-way through his freshman year, tossing 13 touchdowns and just six interceptions in a two month span. He’ll have to contend with his own running game to win any awards but voters will watch carefully to see how much more Greg Marshall will put on the youngster’s plate.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.