Top 10 mid-season 2023 Hec Crighton Trophy candidates

Photo courtesy: Michael P. Hall/Laurier Athletics

We have officially crossed the halfway point of the 2023 U Sports season and a new wave of Canadian football stars has begun to make a name for itself.

While every player enters the season in pursuit of the ultimate Vanier Cup goal, a select few will earn themselves individual accolades as well. None is more prestigious than the Hec Crighton Trophy.

Canada’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy has been claimed by a laundry list of marquee names — from NFL players like Brian Fryer and Tim Tindale, to CFL legends like Bob Cameron, Andy Fantuz and Brad Sinopoli, to trailblazing quarterbacks like Chris Flynn, Andrew Buckley and Tre Ford.

Entering the season, I laid out the 10 players most likely to be in contention for the award come year’s end. A lot has changed since then, namely a suspension and injury to reigning Hec Crighton winner — and preseason frontrunner — Kevin Mital has all but knocked the Laval receiver out of the race.

It’s time to examine how the landscape has shifted, with old favourites falling by the wayside and new contenders emerging. Here is my mid-season Hec Crighton Top 10.

Photo: Laurel Jarvis/Wilfrid Laurier

1. Taylor Elgersma, QB, Wilfrid Laurier University (London, Ont.)
Preseason rank: NR

The Golden Hawks were supposed to be a run-first football team entering this season, but Elgersma’s massive step forward as a passer in his third year has the team sitting at 5-0. The six-foot-six, 220-pound pivot is leading the nation with an average of 336.6 passing yards per game, while sitting second in both touchdown passes (13) and completion percentage (77.0). Elgersma has also added three rushing touchdowns and tossed just two interceptions, placing him excellent position with the toughest three games of his schedule still to play.

Photo courtesy: Bob Frid/UBC Athletics

2. Garrett Rooker, QB, University of British Columbia (League City, Tex.)
Preseason rank: HM

There was some question in the offseason as to whether Rooker would play at all this year, but the Texan certainly hasn’t looked like a player coming off a serious leg injury. His startling 79.2 completion percentage is tops in the country and he’s second with an average of 325.8 yards per game in U Sports’ toughest conference while tossing 10 touchdowns and just a single pick. That is already a career-high in passing majors for the third-year pivot with his top yardage mark expected to topple soon — an accomplishment made more impressive by the fact his backup Derek Engel played significant snaps in two of the team’s four victories.

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

3. Evan Hillock, QB, Western University (Hamilton, Ont.)
Preseason rank: 5

The Mustangs remain the class of the OUA but their vaunted rushing attack has finally begun to take a backseat to Hillock’s prowess as a passer. While his 306.2 yards per game and 70.5 completion percentage lag behind the first two quarterbacks on this list, no one in U Sports has more than his 15 touchdowns or thrown them in bigger moments. With just one interception to show for his increased passing volume, this may finally be the year that the third-year quarterback gets his flowers.

Photo courtesy: Alberta Golden Bears

4. Matthew Peterson, RB, University of Alberta (Brooks, Alta.)
Preseason rank: NR

The Golden Bears are serious contenders in the Canada West and Peterson’s incredible production on the ground is the biggest reason. Having never averaged more than 56.6 yards per game in his first three collegiate seasons, the five-foot-ten, 210-pound slasher is putting up 160 this year and is leading the national rushing race by 60 yards. with another 109 yards receiving, Peterson is also tops in all-purpose yards per game though having scored only two touchdowns will likely dampen his chances.

Photo: Handout/U Sports

5. Jonathan Senecal, QB, Université de Montreal (Montreal, Que.)
Preseason rank: 10

After taking a step back last year due to injury, Senecal is once again looking like the transformational talent who forsook UConn for the Carabins. Averaging 313.5 yards per game through the air, the six-foot, 200-pound dual-threat passer has also chipped in 47 yards per outing on the ground. With 10 passing touchdowns and two rushing scores to go with just two interceptions, he is in the thick of the battle to be Canada’s top quarterback and has Montreal on top of the RSEQ.

Photo courtesy: Greg Mason/GeeGees Athletics

6. Amlicar Polk, RB, University of Ottawa (Dundas, Ont.)
Preseason rank: NR

It is safe to say that the shoes of J.P. Cimankinda have not been too big for Polk to fill, as the Ottawa Redblacks’ seventh-round draft pick in 2023 has returned to school for a spectacular fifth season. The long-time backup and special teamer has finally taken over the starting job and leads all of U Sports with five rushing touchdowns while averaging 145.3 yards per game. He’ll be a major component of the Gee-Gees’ playoff push.

Photo courtesy: Bryan Kennedy/St. FX Athletics

7. Malcolm Bussey, RB, St. Francis Xavier University (Hammond Plains, N.S.)
Preseason rank: 4

The race for the AUS’ Hec nomination is a lot tighter than it was last year, but Bussey is still the man to beat in the Maritimes. Currently third in rushing yards per game at 132, the five-foot-11, 197-pound speedster is the heartbeat of the undefeated X-Men and should continue to put up numbers down the stretch.

Photo courtesy: Laurel Jarvis/Guelph Athletics

8. Donavin Milloy, RB, University of Guelph (Hamilton, Ont.)
Preseason rank: NR

Perhaps the most controversial inclusion on this list, Milloy has game-breaking ability that no other contending back can lay claim to. The second-year ball carrier has only rushed 50 times this season but has amassed 552 yards and three touchdowns on the grounds — an average of 11 yards per carry. Yes, big numbers against York inflated that figure, but the same is true of everyone in the OUA right now.

Photo courtesy: Mount Allison Athletics

9. Brandt Burzuk, RB, Mount Allison University (Red Deer, Alta.)
Preseason rank: NR

If anyone can challenge Bussey’s Atlantic crown, it will be the Mounties’ workhorse fifth-year back. Nobody in the nation has toted the rock than Burzuk’s 83 times through four games, resulting in an average of 114 yards per game. That production has been either feast or famine, but you can’t dismiss a guy who is just two weeks removed from a 238-yard performance.

Photo courtesy: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds

10. Isaiah Knight, RB, University of British Columbia (Ottawa, Ont.)
Preseason rank: 3

Knight hasn’t needed to be the engine for the T-Birds but he’s been far from a slouch. Averaging 136 yards per game, he’s been nearly as productive as Bussey or Polk in an offence that has required far less from him. As the weather changes, look for him to shoulder more of the load.

On the fringes: Eli Hetlinger, QB, Alberta — PS: 8 | Tristan Lefebvre, QB, Carleton — PS: NR | Keon Edwards, RB, Western — PS: 2 | Arnaud Desjardins, QB, Laval — PS: 6 | Ethan Jordan, REC, Laurier — PS: NR

Dropping off: Kevin Mital, REC, Laval — PS: 1 | Quentin Scott, RB, Laurier — PS: 7 | Eloa Latendresse-Regimbald, QB, McGill — PS: 9

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.