Bombers quarterback Collaros captures second straight top player award

REGINA — After a dominant season, Zach Collaros and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers dominated the CFL awards banquet.

Collaros captured the CFL's most outstanding player award for a second straight year Thursday night. Bombers Stanley Bryant (lineman), receiver Dalton Schoen (rookie) and Mike O'Shea (coach of the year) were also honoured as the West Division took six-of-seven major individual trophies.

And Collaros wasted no time crediting his teammates.

"This is an amazing accolade," Collaros said. "It's not lost on me the history of the league and the people who've won, the people who've been fortunate enough to win two times or two times in a row and to even be mentioned with those people.

"It's crazy to me but I can't do my job at a high level if the other guys aren't."

Saskatchewan Roughriders returner Mario Alford (special teams) and B.C. Lions quarterback Nathan Rourke (Canadian) were the others. Lorenzo Mauldin IV of the Ottawa Redblacks (defensive player) was the lone East Division winner.

Fifty ballots were cast by members of the Football Reporters of Canada and nine CFL head coaches.

Collaros leads Winnipeg into the Grey Cup game Sunday versus the Toronto Argonauts. The Bombers are chasing a third straight title.

"We talked a week or two ago about wanting to win the West final to buy another week together and it's here," Collaros said. "It's been amazing so far, let's finish the deal."

Other winners included: Jeff Harbin, the CFL's manager of officiating (Commissioner's Award for outstanding league contributions); retiring Lions president Rick LeLacheur (Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award); Riders centre Dan Clark (Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award); Saskatchewan ticket-operations director Gail Mund (Jane Mawby Tribute Award); and Edmonton Elks receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux (Tom Pate Memorial Award for community contribution).

Collaros, 34, earned 47 votes after guiding Winnipeg to a CFL-best 15-3 record. He led the league in TD passes (37) and was second in passing (career-best 4,183 yards) while completing 305-of-436 passes (70 per cent).

Winnipeg was tops in offensive TDs (58) and passing touchdowns (44) and second in offensive scoring (28.2 points per game). Collaros became the fifth player to win consecutive MOP awards but first since Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo (2008-'09).

Winnipeg also protected Collaros well, allowing the second-fewest sacks (29). But Collaros suffered an ankle injury in Winnipeg's 28-20 West Division final win over B.C. and hasn't practised this week. He has said he'll play Sunday.

Montreal receiver Eugene Lewis (91 catches, 1,303 yards, 10 touchdowns) was the finalist.

The six-foot-five, 313-pound Bryant received 34 votes to claim a record fourth lineman honour. The seven-time CFL all-star also won in 2017, '18 and 2021 and had his four-year-old son, Quinton, on hand.

"It's just consistency," the 36-year-old Bryant said. "I try to be the same player each and every game, each and every year and try to be consistent when I go out there and help my team win games.

"At the end of the day it's about the camaraderie of the team and just going out there and winning games and Grey Cups."

Hamilton Tiger-Cat Brandon Revenberg was the finalist.

The six-foot-one, 218-pound Schoen led the CFL in receiving yards (1,441) and TD catches (16) to earn 48 votes. He also had 70 receptions (20.6-yard average).

"The question I got most this entire year was how was I able to come into this league and find success as a rookie and an American adjusting to this new game," Schoen said. "The answer, to me, was always so simple, so straightforward, it's the people around me.

"To everyone in the Blue Bombers organization, everyone on this team, this award is a testament to you all."

Montreal receiver Tyson Philpot was the finalist.

O'Shea, of North Bay, Ont., received 44 votes to repeat as the CFL's top coach. Winnipeg recorded double-digit wins for a sixth straight season as O'Shea joined Bud Grant (1957-62) as the lone Bomber coaches to accomplish that feat.

"There's so many people to thank, there's so many people involved," O'Shea said. "It's not easy standing up there (being) singled out, it really isn't.

"It's way more important to be on the field with a group of guys working for a common goal. You're over the hump now, you just want to get it (Grey Cup) going."

O'Shea becomes the first CFL coach to win consecutive honours since Montreal's Charlie Taaffe (1999-2000).

Toronto's Ryan Dinwiddie was the finalist.

Rourke, 24, received 41 votes after finishing sixth in CFL passing with 3,349 yards despite playing only 10 regular-season games. The Victoria native staked B.C. to wins in eight of its first nine contests before suffering a foot injury that required surgery.

At the time, Rourke led the CFL in passing (3,281 yards) and TDs (25). He returned for B.C.'s regular-season finale, then led the club past Calgary 30-16 in the West Division semifinal before losing to Winnipeg last weekend.

Rourke finished completing 255-of-324 passes (78.7 per cent) with 25 TDs, 10 interceptions and a league-high six 300-yard games. He also ran for 304 yards on 39 carries (7.8-yard average) with seven touchdowns.

And with Edmonton giving fellow Canadian quarterback Tre Ford an opportunity to play, Rourke, who reiterated his plans to work out for NFL teams this off-season, hopes this is a sign of things to come.

"When I came into this league, initially people were like, 'Be careful of the way they treat Canadian quarterbacks,'" Rourke said. "I got lucky enough to not go to an organization that puts a lot of weight in that.

"Hopefully that continues and hopefully the league can continue to value Canadians as well as a whole."

Toronto receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. was the finalist.

Alford received 38 votes after recording a CFL-high/club-record four return TDs (two kickoff, one punt, one missed field goal) in 13 regular-season games. The Riders acquired Alford from Montreal in July and this week he re-signed with Saskatchewan.

"I've been through a lot being traded during the season," he said. "If I'm on the field and have the ball in my hands, I feel like something great is going to happen.

"I just have confidence in myself, it's through the roof. I've always felt that way."

Montreal's Chandler Worthy was the finalist.

The six-foot-four, 259-pound Mauldin IV was a bright spot for the Redblacks (4-14), registering a CFL-high 17 sacks. He's the first Ottawa player to lead the league in sacks since Angelo Snipes (20 in '92).

Mauldin IV also had 43 tackles and two forced fumbles, both career highs. He spent his first two CFL seasons with Hamilton, recording a combined 13 tackles and four sacks in 17 games.

"I didn't win this on my own," Mauldin IV said. "It felt good to win it for the guys and the Redblacks organization.

"I can't wait to see what '23 holds. I'm not done, I have a long way to go."

Calgary Stampeder Shawn Lemon was the finalist.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press