He’s a six-time CFL all-star, was the league’s outstanding player in 2006 and has twice hoisted the Grey Cup. And now Geroy Simon is poised to become the most prolific receiver in league history.
The B.C. Lions slotback needs just 68 yards to break Milt Stegall’s all-time record of 15,153 receiving yards. And unfortunately for rival defences, retirement is the furthest thing from the 36-year-old Simon’s mind.
“People please STOP asking me when I’m retiring! I’m about to win another GC. I’m to young to think about it being over,” Simon recently tweeted, with the GC reference being to the Lions’ Grey Cup win last season.
The 13-year CFL veteran was the league’s second-leading receiver last season with 84 catches for 1,350 yards and eight touchdowns. He helped the Lions rally from a miserable 0-5 start to the 2011 campaign to become the first team since the ‘94 B.C. squad to capture the Grey Cup at home, downing Winnipeg 33-24 at B.C. Place.
The six-foot, 190-pound former Maryland star, who strikes his usual Superman pose every time he finds the end zone, has been a model of consistency. He has amassed 10 straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons and missed just two regular-season games over that span. He also finds himself fifth on the all-time receptions list (935) and third in career TD catches (98).
But Simon isn’t the only CFL player worth watching this season. Here are some others to keep an eye on:
Travis Lulay: The Lions’ quarterback was named the CFL MVP after passing for 4,815 yards and 32 touchdowns and rallying his club to first in the West Division. After guiding B.C. to a 40-23 win over Edmonton in the conference final, Lulay capped his season by being named the Grey Cup MVP after passing for 320 yards and two TDs against Winnipeg.
Anthony Calvillo: The Los Angeles native turns 40 in August but threw for a CFL-high 5,251 yards last year to finish behind B.C.’s Travis Lulay for the CFL’s outstanding player honour, one Calvillo has won three times. The three-time Grey Cup winner is entering his 19th season in Canada and 15th in Montreal and is pro football’s all-time leading passer with 73,412 yards.
Ricky Ray: A change of scenery for the nine-year CFL veteran, who was dealt this off-season from Edmonton to the Toronto Argonauts. Ray won two Grey Cup titles with Edmonton and led the Eskimos to an 11-7 record last year and second-place finish in the West Division. He joins an Argos team that has missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.
Henry Burris: Another veteran quarterback on the move as Burris was dealt from Calgary to Hamilton this off-season. Burris led the Stampeders to a Grey Cup title in 2008 and was the game’s MVP before claiming the CFL’s outstanding player in 2010. But he lost his starting job late last season to youngster Drew Tate. Burris recently turned 37 and is entering his 13th CFL season.
Avon Cobourne: He was out of football before being pressed back into action with Hamilton after projected starter Martell Mallett suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury. Cobourne was a high-profile free-agent signing by Hamilton last year after helping lead Montreal to consecutive 2009-’10 Grey Cup titles. Cobourne was the Ticats’ rushing leader last year with 961 yards.
Paul McCallum: The Lions kicker was almost automatic in 2011, hitting 50-of-53 field goals for a CFL-record 94.3 success ratio. And at one point, the 42-year-old — who is also the oldest player in the league — hit 30 straight field goals, another league record. He was named the league’s top special-teams player and capped his season celebrating a Grey Cup title.
Chad Owens: The Toronto Argonauts’ star is the league’s most dynamic kick returner. The five-foot-seven, 180-pound Owens is a threat to score anytime he gets his hands on a punt or kickoff. While Toronto missed the playoffs last year, Owens became the first player in pro football history to surpass 3,000 all-purpose yards two straight seasons.
Drew Tate: The former Iowa star begins his fourth season with the Calgary Stampeders but first full campaign as the starter after supplanting veteran Henry Burris late last year. The six-foot, 192-pound Tate completed nearly 64 per cent of his passes in 2011 was a dismal 5-of-10 for 99 yards with an interception in an opening-round 33-19 playoff loss to Edmonton.
Odell Willis: There was no more feared pass-rusher the first half of last season than Willis but his production dropped off after Labour Day, so much so that Winnipeg dealt the all-star defensive end to Saskatchewan in the off-season despite Willis finishing tied for the league lead in sacks with 13. However, nine of those came in Winnipeg’s opening eight games.
Andy Fantuz: After six seasons in Saskatchewan, the native of Chatham, Ont., signed with Hamilton as a free agent. The deal was reportedly worth $190,000 annually. Time with the Chicago Bears and a lingering ankle ailment limited Fantuz to just 13 catches for 175 yards and no TDs last year after being named the CFL’s top Canadian in 2010 with 87 receptions for 1,380 yards and six TDs.
Jon Cornish: The native of New Westminster, B.C., emerged last season to supplant Joffrey Reynolds, Calgary’s all-time rushing leader, as the Stampeders starting tailback. And Cornish didn’t disappoint, averaging a sparkling 7.3 yards per carry in rushing for 863 total yards. Cornish also displayed a nose for the end zone, running for nine TDs on just 119 carries.
Chris Garrett: After being released by Winnipeg prior to last season, the shifty tailback returned following season-ending knee injuries to starter Fred Reid and backup Carl Volny. Garrett ran for 576 yards in six games, then rushed for 190 yards to lead the Bombers past Hamilton in the East final. The Bombers have since released Reid and Garrett enters the season as the club’s starter.
Andrew Harris: The 25-year-old Winnipeg native began last season as a backup running back but became the B.C. Lions’ starter around midseason. Harris finished the regular season with 458 yards and averaged a solid 4.8 yards per carry but capped the 2011 campaign by being named the top Canadian in the club’s Grey Cup victory over Winnipeg, rushing for 65 yards and a TD.
Rob Bagg: The Saskatchewan slotback had his 2010 season end with a knee injury, then missed all of last season after re-injuring the knee. Prior to that, Bagg had emerged as a reliable receiver, registering 59 catches for 807 yards and five TDs in 2009 before accumulating 44 receptions for 668 yards and three TDs in 15 games in 2010 with the Riders.