Bryant, Bighill continue to earn accolades; thirst for more titles


HAMILTON — It’s the 2018 offseason and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers just made one of their biggest free agent signings in years.

Linebacker Adam Bighill, the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2015 with the B.C. Lions, was returning to Canada after a year with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints. The Bombers hadn’t won a playoff game since 2011, and Bighill could’ve gone anywhere he wanted, yet he chose Winnipeg.

It was a pretty big deal to say the least, but somehow Drew Wolitarsky, a second-year wide receiver at the time, didn’t get the memo about his new teammate.

“It’s funny actually. He came in during camp and I had my own room. We’re at some dorm and he comes in and it’s Adam Bighill. I didn’t know who he was at all. I thought he was a random dude trying out for the team,” Wolitarsky said at Friday’s Grey Cup week media availability in Hamilton.

“So, whatever, a couple days go by, he’s a pretty quiet guy, but I was playing guitar and he was like ‘Oh you play guitar? Let me play a little bit.’ I think he played One Last Breath from Creed or something, like super funny. So, I was like ‘This guy’s pretty cool.’ And people were like ‘Dude, you’re rooming with Biggie?’ And I’m like ‘Who’s that, brother?’… So, honestly, I got a really raw version of him. A super real dude, a really cool guy, before I even knew all his accolades… (Coach Mike O’Shea) brings in guys who are team players, man, and this guy’s the definition of that.”

It’d be hard to find someone that doesn’t recognize Bighill now, especially after Friday night’s CFL Award show at the Hamilton Convention Centre. As the face of the league’s most dominant defence, Bighill won his third Most Outstanding Defensive Player trophy, joining Joe Montford, Willie Pless, James “Quick” Parker, and Danny Kepley as the only players to have ever won three or more times.

The 33-year-old from Montesano, Wash., who now lives in Winnipeg year-round, also won it in his first year with the Bombers.

“You always envision the best and this is pretty darn close,” Bighill said Friday night.

“It’s a pretty awesome start (to my time with the Bombers)… I knew there was a good thing going on in Winnipeg before I left the CFL for the NFL and obviously in watching when I was down in the NFL. When it was time to come back, Winnipeg was at the top of the list for a lot of reasons. Former teammates and obviously, a big one was coach Mike O’Shea. So, it’s going pretty good.”

Bighill isn’t the only Bomber that will have to make room in a crowded trophy case. Left tackle Stanley Bryant made history on the night by winning his third Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award. He’s the first player to accomplish that feat.

Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press</p>
<p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Stanley Bryant is awarded his third ‘Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman’ title during the CFL Awards in Hamilton on Friday.</p>
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Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Stanley Bryant is awarded his third ‘Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman’ title during the CFL Awards in Hamilton on Friday.

Bryant, a Goldsboro, N.C., native, joined the Blue and Gold in 2015 after five years with the Calgary Stampeders. The Bombers were 5-13 in Bryant’s first season in Winnipeg, but the signing marked the beginning of a franchise that was on the path to returning to it’s winning ways.

Bryant, now 35, won the MOOL title in 2017 and 2018 before losing in 2019 by two votes to Hamilton’s Chris Van Zeyl.

“It’s been great. I don’t think about it a lot. I think we still have a lot of things to achieve as an organization, but I’m happy to be a part of that rebuilding phase that happened and being able to bring the city a championship back in 2019,” Bryant said.

Bighill and Bryant have a chance to add to their legacies on Sunday when they meet the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field for the 108th Grey Cup. Win or lose, Bighill and Bryant have already established themselves as two of the best, and most important, free-agent signings in Bombers’ history.

A big reason for that is because of how much they’re adored by their teammates.

“Stan is somebody who’s quiet, but you know he’s there… Stan is one of those guys who will silently challenge you. He’ll send you little text messages, he’ll say certain things just to stir you up,” said wide receiver Rasheed Bailey.

“Stan’s my guy. Having his presence, and having a chance to have his back every single week, with the great player that he is, a hall of famer, hopefully, it’s a privilege to line up with him and lock eyes with him and know it’s time… He’s a tremendous teammate to be around.”

Arguably the most impressive thing about Bighill and Bryant is that even after all these years of playing, they’ve shown zero signs of slowing down. They’re both locks to be first-ballot hall of famers, but neither one is satisfied yet.

So, what’s left to achieve?

“More Grey Cups,” said Bryant with a big grin.

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

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