Another year, another outstanding player award nomination for Anthony Calvillo.
The veteran quarterback was named the Montreal Alouettes nominee for the award Wednesday in voting conducted by members of the Football Reporters of Canada as well as the eight CFL head coaches. Calvillo has won the honour three times ('03, ‘08, ‘09), been voted the Als top player nine times and is looking to be the East Division nominee for a fourth straight season.
The 39-year-old Calvillo has enjoyed a banner campaign, leading the CFL in passing yards (5,188) and touchdowns (32) while surrendering just eight interceptions. And earlier this season Calvillo became the CFL's all-time leader in completions (5,345), touchdown passes (418) and passing yards (73,349).
But Calvillo wasn't a unanimous selection, not a surprise given Montreal's Jamel Richardson leads the CFL in catches (110), receiving yards (1,772) and touchdown receptions (11). Also, tailback Brandon Whitaker posted a league-high 1,364 yards rushing in his first season as the Alouettes' starter.
However, it's Calvillo who makes Montreal's high-powered offence go. Under his guidance, the Alouettes lead the CFL in scoring (30.2 points per game), passing (321.8 yards per game) and total yards (419 yards per game).
The other East Division nominees include kick-returner/receiver Chad Owens of the Toronto Argonauts, defensive lineman Justin Hickman of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and defensive back Jovon Johnson of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Owens leads the CFL with 3,345 all-purpose yards and became the first player in pro football history to surpass the 3,000-yard plateau in consecutive seasons.
Hickman has helped anchor a rugged Hamilton defence with 12 sacks, one behind CFL leader Odell Willis of the Blue Bombers. Johnson has a league-best seven interceptions, returning two for TDs, and is also second in punt returns (64 for 517 yards) and missed field goal returns (seven for 201 yards).
Quarterback Travis Lulay, who has led the B.C. Lions to nine wins over the club's last 10 games, was a unanimous selection to top the West Division nominees. Also nominated were quarterback Ricky Ray of the Edmonton Eskimos and receivers Weston Dressler of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Nik Lewis of the Calgary Stampeders (unanimous).
Lulay is second to Calvillo in passing yards (4,535) and touchdowns (28) and has also rushed for 340 yards (7.7-yard average) and three TDs. Ray is third in passing yards (4,289) and has also thrown 22 touchdown strikes.
Lewis is third in CFL receiving with 89 catches for 1,153 yards and five touchdowns while Dressler was Saskatchewan's top pass catcher with 78 receptions for 1,034 yards and five TDs.
Johnson received the most opening-round nominations with three. He was also named the Bombers' top defensive player and outstanding special-teams performer.
“I think I played pretty well, it's been probably my best season of late,” Johnson said. “I would have loved to get more opportunities as a returner but you know, it's just one of those things.
“You're mixing in guys and giving everybody looks and, being a team player, you accept that, You know your role and I just try to keep pushing ahead and moving forward and trying to make plays for our team.”
Owens was also Toronto's nominee for the CFL's top special-teams player, an honour he captured last year. Also nominated twice were kickers Sean Whyte of Montreal and Paul McCallum of the B.C. Lions, both getting the nod as their clubs' top Canadian and special-teams performer.
That's interesting, given the Lions dealt Whyte to Montreal in the off-season. The change of scenery hasn't hurt as White leads the CFL in scoring with 196 points, has made 45-of-51 field goal tries and sports a 41.1-yard punting average.
The 41-year-old McCallum, a 19-year veteran and the CFL's oldest player, has been money this season. He has hit on 45-of-48 field goals (league-high 93.8 per cent) and made the longest boot of the season at 57 yards.
The division finalists will be announced next week. The CFL will honour its top individual performers Nov. 24 in Vancouver.
Worth watching will be who gets the nod as top Canadian in the West Division because there's no shortage of worthy candidates.
Joining McCallum are Calgary tailback Jon Cornish (a unanimous pick with 825 rushing yards and a stellar 7.4-yard average), Edmonton running back Jerome Messam (another unanimous selection with 981 rushing yards) and Saskatchewan slotback Chris Getzlaf (53 catches for 940 yards and eight TDs).
Messam is attempting to become the first Canadian-born 1,000-yard rusher since Sean Millington did so with the B.C. Lions 2000. Messam began the year in B.C., but was dealt to Edmonton during training camp.
In the East, Toronto defensive end Ricky Foley (67 tackles, five sacks), Hamilton slotback Dave Stala (50 catches, 687 yards, eight TDs) and Winnipeg receiver Cory Watson (65 catches, 757 yards, one TD) got the nod as top Canadian.
The East Division nomination for top rookie figures to be a two-horse race between receivers Chris Williams of Hamilton and Winnipeg's Clarence Denmark, both unanimous picks. Williams has 65 catches for 1,012 yards and six touchdowns but Denmark has been a solid contributor with the Bombers with 60 receptions for 764 yards and four TDs.
In the West, Edmonton linebacker J.C. Sherrit (72 tackles) was a unanimous selection as top rookie but Saskatchewan safety Craig Butler (team-high five interceptions, 42 tackles) has been very impressive.
Notably absent in the nominations, though, was B.C. linebacker Solomon Elimimian as top defensive player despite being tied for second in the CFL in tackles (91). Defensive lineman Keron Williams (11 sacks) got the Lions' nod for that award.