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TORONTO — The significance isn't lost upon William Stanback.
The Montreal Alouettes running back was named the East Division's nominee for the CFL's outstanding player award Thursday. Only two players at that position have won the honour since 1998.
Trouble is, the West Division nominee is Zach Collaros, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' veteran quarterback. And since 1998, quarterbacks have claimed the award 15 times.
"This is a passing league, this is an award usually given to the quarterbacks," Stanback told reporters during a videoconference Thursday. "It means a lot that a running back can make it this far and be a finalist.
"Collaros is a great player. If he gets it I guess he deserves it. Nothing I can really say. Hopefully a running back like myself can get it."
Calgary's Jon Cornish was the last running back to win the award, doing so in 2013. Before that, the previous recipient was none other than former Alouettes star Mike Pringle, the Hall of Famer who won it for the second time in 1998 (his first came in 1995).
Ironically, among the quarterbacks to capture the CFL's top individual honour was Montreal head coach Khari Jones, who claimed the award in 2001 while with Winnipeg. But Jones's season ended with a 27-19 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup game.
"The way he (Stanback) played this year was pretty incredible," Jones said. "When I won, my teammates were there which made it more special.
"Hopefully we can do the same and be there with those two."
Montreal defensive lineman David Menard was named the East Division's top Canadian nominee.
Collaros, 33, led Winnipeg to a CFL-best 11-3 record and top spot in the West Division. The six-foot-two, 222-pound quarterback completed 243-of-346 passes (70.2 per cent) for 3,185 yards with a league-high 20 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Collaros, in his 10th CFL season, also had a league-best efficiency rating of 111.0.
Stanback, 27, ran for a CFL-high 1,176 yards and three TDs in 12 games. The six-foot, 233-pound running back recorded six 100-yard games, including a 203-yard performance in a 37-16 home win over Toronto on Oct. 22.
Stanback, in his third season with Montreal, averaged 6.1 yards per carry and added 16 receptions for 114 yards. The Alouettes (7-7) finished third in the East Division.
Stanback has also had to overcome adversity. In 2020, he lost both of his parents 10 days apart while attending training camp with the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders.
Voting was conducted by members of the Football Reporters of Canada and the nine CFL head coaches.
Collaros was one of four Bombers to be named a West Division finalist. The others were linebacker Adam Bighill (defensive player), Stanley Bryant (lineman) and Mike O'Shea (coach of the year).
Bryant was the CFL's top lineman in 2017-18 before finishing as the runner-up to Hamilton's Chris Van Zeyl in 2019. Bighill, who was also the CFL's outstanding defensive player in 2015 while with B.C., took to social media to express his appreciation.
"Thankful, and humbled," Bighill tweeted. "Lots of great players in this league and especially in our locker room!
"I appreciate everyone who's believed in my ability."
The five-foot-10, 219-pound Bighill, 33, anchored the CFL's stingiest defence with 70 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions.
The other West Division award finalists were linebackers Bo Lokombo (Canadian) and Jordan Williams (rookie) of the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders kicker Rene Parades (special teams).
Linebacker Simoni Lawrence of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was the East Division's top defensive player for a second straight season and third time overall. He was the runner-up to Winnipeg's Willie Jefferson for the league honour in 2019 and Bighill in 2015.
The six-foot-one, 231-pound Lawrence is completing his ninth CFL season, eighth with Hamilton. He had 73 tackles, four sacks, three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) while appearing in all 14 of the Ticats' regular-season contests.
"Every season I come up here to play football, I know I'm going to be surrounded by great coaches . . . and great players," Lawrence said. "All I have to do is my job and play very good football.
"It (winning the award) is never up to me. I feel it's a defence award and I'm representing the guys and I feel like we've put ourself in a great position to get it."
Teammate Brandon Revenberg was named the East Division's top lineman for the second time, also earning the honour in 2018. The six-foot-four, 301-pound native of Essex, Ont., started all 14 games at left guard this season and has yet to miss a game -- regular season or playoffs -- over his five CFL seasons.
Revenberg was also Hamilton's outstanding Canadian nominee in 2019. But Revenberg downplayed the significance of Thursday's nomination as he and his teammates prepare to host the Montreal Alouettes in the East Division semifinal Sunday afternoon.
"I'm not paying too much attention to individual awards right now," he said. "I think as a team we have a bigger goal in mind.
"I'm definitely honoured to be nominated for the East but we're all focused on something else right now."
DeVonte Dedmon of the Ottawa Redblacks claimed the East Division's special-teams honour.
The Toronto Argonauts also have two finalists. Offensive lineman Peter Nicastro was named the East Division's outstanding rookie while Ryan Dinwiddie claimed top coach honours.
The CFL's awards banquet will held Dec. 10 in Hamilton.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2021.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press