Big Blue’s most outstanding named

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros gets pressure from the Montreal Alouettes during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg Saturday, November 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros gets pressure from the Montreal Alouettes during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg Saturday, November 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Who doesn’t love award season?

Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea — that’s who.

When there’s still football left to be played, such as Saturday’s regular season finale in Calgary against the Stampeders, O’Shea isn’t exactly eager to give attention to individual awards.

But O’Shea didn’t have much of a choice Wednesday as the CFL unveiled each team’s Most Outstanding Player Award winners.

“To me, they come at the worst time,” O’Shea said with a laugh.

“You know, when you’re trying to be all-in on team. But these guys are pros. They understand it.”

The good news for O’Shea is that the Bombers had no shortage of deserving options for the majority of the six categories.

That’s what happens when you’re an 11-2 club and the cream of the crop of the CFL.

“It certainly speaks to the team we have. I think we’ve got a very good collection of players that really understand team and that concept and buy-in and are trying to improve every day. I do believe that it’s noticeable that there are several worthy players for each of these individual accolades,” said O’Shea.

The voting is conducted by the local chapter of the Football Reporters of Canada and the league’s head coaches. Next Wednesday the West and East Division nominees will be announced, followed by the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Awards getting revealed during Grey Cup week in Hamilton.

Here’s who will be representing the Blue and Gold for those prizes:

Most Outstanding Player — QB Zach Collaros

The Bombers may be led by a historic defence, but it’s hard to imagine anyone more deserving for this nomination than quarterback Zach Collaros.

John Woods / The Canadian Press files</p>
<p>Quarterback Zach Collaros is 15-1 as a starter since joining the Bombers late in the 2019 season.</p>
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John Woods / The Canadian Press files

Quarterback Zach Collaros is 15-1 as a starter since joining the Bombers late in the 2019 season.

It’s the first time Collaros has been named his team’s MOP since 2015 when he was with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

“I think as you get older, you understand how important these things are and that they don’t happen every season… On a team with so many great players who have had great seasons, to be recognized this way is cool. It’s awesome,” Collaros said after Wednesday’s closed practice.

Despite sitting out last week’s loss in Montreal, Collaros leads the league in touchdown passes with 20 and sits in second place in passing yards with 3,112. His 70.2 completion percentage and 111.6 QB rating are also the best in the CFL. But an even more impressive number is his record under centre, as the Bombers are 11-1 in games started by Collaros this year and 15-1 overall since the Toronto Argos traded the veteran pivot here at the 2019 trade deadline.

Most Outstanding Defensive Player — LB Adam Bighill

Out of all of the awards, this one had by far the most contenders. You could’ve made a strong argument for defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson, or even safety Brandon Alexander, but Bighill is a solid choice to represent The Dark Side.

The 33-year-old is no stranger to being highlighted as he won the CFL MODP award in 2015 with the B.C. Lions and in 2018 in his first campaign in Winnipeg. This is the fifth time (2012, 2013, 2015, and 2018) Bighill has been voted his team’s best defender.”Being named the (MODP) on this team probably means more than it’s ever meant… Just the amount of guys we have in this locker room that really are candidates, so it’s very humbling and a great feeling to have that nomination… Out of all the nominations in my career, this probably means the most,” Bighill said.

<p>Linebacker Adam Bighill says being named the Blue Bombers Most Outstanding Defensive Player is humbling.</p>
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Linebacker Adam Bighill says being named the Blue Bombers Most Outstanding Defensive Player is humbling.

If Bighill goes on to win the league award, he’d become only the fifth player to win three MODP trophies. Joe Montford, Willie Pless, James “Quick” Parker, and Danny Kepley are the only players to have won three or more times.

“That’s legacy. That’s history. That’s pretty special,” Bighill said.

“It’s one of those things where you let the chips fall where they may. But coming out of Winnipeg and getting a nomination with the defence that we have, I think that’s a pretty good start for going forward. I feel like we do have a defensive player of the year somewhere in our locker room, we just didn’t know who it was going to be.”

Bighill has been a force on defence this season, registering 66 tackles, hauling in two interceptions, and scooping up two fumbles, one of which he took back for a touchdown. He’s also doing it in a season where he was asked to take a $145,000 pay cut. His contract for this season is $115,000, down significantly from the $260,000 that he made in 2019.

“What transpired this offseason, ya’ know, I always play with a chip on my shoulder. It gave me a little bit more, for sure,” said Bighill.

“I’m not going to say it helped me play better or do anything more, but it was something where I felt like I still needed to prove that I can play at an elite level and be one of the best players in this league and I firmly believe that.”

Most Outstanding Canadian Player — WR Nic Demski

John Woods / The Canadian Press files</p>
<p>This is the first time six-year CFL veteran Nic Demski has been named his team’s Most Outstanding Canadian.</p>
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John Woods / The Canadian Press files

This is the first time six-year CFL veteran Nic Demski has been named his team’s Most Outstanding Canadian.

In his sixth CFL season, Nic Demski has finally been acknowledged as the top Canadian on his team. Playing alongside star running back Andrew Harris these past few years has forced Demski to be patient, but no one could deny the receiver this time around as he’s putting up career-best numbers with 637 receiving yards, five total touchdowns, and 44 receptions. Heading into the final week of the season, Demski is 11th in the league in receiving.”Obviously, as a Canadian in this league, this is one of the awards that you look for and to be on a team with such great Canadians on it, it’s definitely an honour,” said Demski.

Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman — LT Stanley Bryant

<p>Stanley Bryant is in the running for his third CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award.</p>
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Stanley Bryant is in the running for his third CFL Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award.

No surprise here.

For the fifth time in six seasons, Bryant has been named the Bombers best offensive lineman. It’s his seventh time receiving the team honour as he was Calgary’s best lineman in 2011 and 2013.

Bryant, 35, has claimed the CFL’s top offensive lineman title twice and has a chance at making history and becoming the first player to win it for a third time. He came close to doing so in 2019 but Hamilton’s Chris Van Zeyl edged him out by two votes.

Bryant’s in his 11th CFL season but hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and remains the face of one of the league’s most respected offensive lines.

“I think as far as athleticism, I think I still (feel) like I’m 29 or 28, even 21. I take pride in being able to go out there, move around, and do the things that I do and I still have that,” Bryant said. “… I’m just happy to get the nomination and show that I can still play the game of football.”

Most Outstanding Special Teams Player — ST Mike Miller

Well, it sure as heck wasn’t going to go to one of their kickers.

Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files</p>
<p>Mike Miller is the CFL’s all-time leader in special teams tackles.</p>
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Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files

Mike Miller is the CFL’s all-time leader in special teams tackles.

Although the ball has sailed wide of the uprights many times this season, it hasn’t been all bad on special teams for the Bombers as Mike Miller continues to show why everyone on the team refers to him as “the GOAT.”

Earlier this season, the 32-year-old fullback surpassed former B.C. Lions linebacker Jason Arakgi for the most special teams tackles in CFL history. Miller currently sits at 208 in his career after adding a league-best 23 special teams tackles to his total in 2021. In 2019, Miller was named the Bombers and the West Division’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player.

“It’s definitely an honour to be nominated again. We have such a good team. There’s a lot of guys that were just as deserving as me,” Miller said. “… There’s just so many different parts of special teams. Some guys maybe don’t make all the tackles, but we got guys that are great, great special teams players on this team who do a hell of a job.

Most Outstanding Rookie — DB DeAundre Alford

DeAundre Alford has been one of the best stories to come out of this season.

John Woods / The Canadian Press files</p>
<p>DeAundre Alford: Most Outstanding Rookie.</p>
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John Woods / The Canadian Press files

DeAundre Alford: Most Outstanding Rookie.

A product of Div. II Tusculum University, Alford was one of 27 defensive backs in training camp fighting to make the Bombers. Alford not only made the team, but also took what was expected to be a questionable secondary and helped turn it into a dominant unit.

Alford has started all 13 games this season, lining up at both cornerback spots, and is second in the league with four interceptions. He’s also third in tackles on the club as his 45 put him behind only Bighill (66) and Deatrick Nichols (46).

Alford, as well as Demski, Bryant, and Miller, were all unanimous selections.

“I just feel like I’m the chosen one coming from where I come from. It’s surreal,” Alford said.

“I just got to keep working. I’m blessed that I got this accolade but I got to keep on working and bringing success to the whole organization.”

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

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