Race for the Hec Crighton: 10 mid-season candidates to take home U Sports football’s top individual honour

Photo courtesy: Electric Umbrella/Huskie Athletics

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.

A little over a month ago, I released my list of the top ten preseason candidates to receive the storied award. As the U Sports season passes its midway point around the country, it’s time to check back in and see which players remain in the hunt for the Hec.

* indicates a player who appeared on the preseason watch list

Photo courtesy: Electric Umbrella/Huskie Athletics

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

One of the top contenders for the award to kick off the year, Nyhus has lived up to that billing and more in his final season at the helm for the Huskies, leading the nation with 1,400 passing yards through four games. That’s equal to an average of 350 yards per contest — 36 more than any other pivot. The fifth-year sensation is also tops in completions and attempts, boasting a 67.3 completion percentage while throwing for nine touchdowns and just one interception. His golden arm is a big reason why the Huskies are 4-0 and favoured to return to the Vanier Cup.

Photo courtesy: Laval Rouge et Or

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

With the Philpot twins currently ripping up the CFL, Mital has seized the title of U Sports’ most dominant receiver with two hands and isn’t letting go. The former Syracuse University commit is second in the country with 28 receptions and tops in yardage with 434 yards — 57 more than any other pass catcher. Where Mital truly steals the show, however, is when it comes to putting points on the board, as Laval’s top target has a ridiculous eight touchdowns in four games, putting him on pace to break the U Sports single-season receiving touchdowns record of 15 set by Don Blair in 1995.

Photo courtesy: U Sports

Anthony Soles, Running back, Queen’s Gaels (Pointe Claire, Que.)

A breakout star completely out of left field, Soles had just 79 rushing yards and two touchdowns in his freshman season. He has 612 yards and seven scores in five games in this one, capped by a 244-yard, four-touchdown performance last week against Guelph. Soles has not yet been held to fewer than 80 yards on the ground in a single contest and is handily at the head of the pack when it comes to the national rushing race.

Photo courtesy: Brandon VandeCaveye/Western Athletics

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

It’s possible that Hillock’s inclusion so high on this list will raise a few eyebrows, given that he sits 13th nationally with an average of 209 passing yards per game. What the critics choose to ignore is the absurd efficiency with which the second-year quarterback commands the No. 1-ranked Mustangs. Hillock has 11 touchdown passes in four games, second most in Canada and has yet to throw a single interception in pursuit of a second straight Vanier Cup.

Photo courtesy: Kevin Jarrold/Ottawa Gee-Gees

J.P. Cimankinda, Running back, Ottawa Gee-Gees (Ottawa, Ont.)

A seventh-round pick of the Edmonton Elks who took reps at linebacker this CFL preseason, Cimankinda returned to school determined to prove he’s a real running back. The 235-pound bowling ball has done just that, rushing for 531 yards and two touchdowns in five games. Add in his 103 yards receiving and you’ll find that Cimankinda is actually second in the nation in all-purpose yardage, slightly ahead of the aforementioned Soles.

Photo courtesy: Don Voaklander/Alberta Golden Bears

Kolby Hurford, Receiver, Alberta Golden Bears (Sherwood Park, Alta.)

The title of best deep threat in Canadian university football is currently undisputed, as Hurford finds himself leading U Sports with an average of 29 yards per reception. The second-year speedster has caught just 13 passes but sits second to Mital with 377 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Much of that came in a 202-yard, three-score outing against Manitoba, but Hurford truly is a threat from anywhere on the field.

Photo courtesy: Laval Rouge et Or

Arnaud Desjardins, Quarterback, Laval Rouge et Or (Montreal, Que.)

While Mital is the sensation that everyone is talking about, his quarterback deserves more than a little love as well. Nobody in the country has come close to Desjardins’ ridiculous 75.6 completion percentage through four games and he hasn’t accomplished that by not throwing the rock. The second-year pivot is third nationally with an average of 288 yards passing per game and has thrown more touchdowns than anyone else with 12, all while managing to commit just two interceptions.

Photo courtesy: Bryan Kennedy/St. FX Athletics

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

To be frank, this isn’t looking like the year where the AUS will take home its first Hec Crighton since 2007, but they will ultimately produce one of the four finalists. Right now, Bussey is the clear-cut choice, sitting fifth in the nation with 415 rushing yards and three touchdowns in four games. Nobody else in the Atlantic conference even remotely comes close to that production.

Photo courtesy: Kevin Jarrold/Windsor Lancers

Joey Zorn, Running back, Windsor Lancers (Flint, Michigan)

The unlikely rise of Windsor has been one of the best stories of the 2022 U Sports season and Zorn deserves a lot of credit for that. The American freshman finds himself fourth in his adopted nation with 477 yards and three touchdowns in four games. At this stage, Zorn is the frontrunner to win the Peter Gorman Trophy as Canada’s top first year player, but he deserves to be in the Hec conversation as well.

Photo courtesy: Brandon VandeCaveye/Western Mustangs

Keon Edwards, Running back, Western Mustangs (Toronto, Ont.)*

The Mustangs’ vaunted ground attack hasn’t slowed down one iota this season and Edwards is once again its unquestioned leader. With 487 yards and four touchdowns in four games, only Soles is averaging more yardage than Western’s top back. Unfortunately, Edward’s Hec case is hurt by Western’s own dominance, as backup Edouard Wanadi is also averaging more than a hundred yards per game behind that defending Vanier Cup champion offensive line.

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.