Kory Sheets has been the CFL’s most dominant player this season.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders running back is not only leading the league in rushing with 1,149 yards, he’s also on pace to become the most dominant single-season runner in league history. Sheets is on pace to finish with nearly 2,300 yards, which would shatter the current mark of 2,065 set in 1998 by former Montreal Alouettes star Mike Pringle.
The five-foot-11, 208-pound Sheets is the runaway favourite at the halfway point of the season for the CFL’s outstanding player award.
Quarterbacks have traditionally dominated the annual vote by the Football Reporters of Canada, winning it 17 times since 1990. Running backs have won it three times over that span, with Pringle doing so twice (1995, 1998).
The other was Toronto’s Mike (Pinball) Clemons in 1990.
The hard-running Sheets has helped the Riders (8-1) assume top spot in the ultra-competitive West Division with the CFL’s best record. If Saskatchewan can remain there, it would give the squad home-field advantage for the conference final and a shot at reaching the Grey Cup game, which will be played at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium.
The Riders are attempting to become the third straight team to win the CFL title on home soil following the B.C. Lions in 2011 and Toronto Argonauts last year.
Here’s a look at the other award favourites heading into the second half of the regular season.
Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish is putting together a record-setting season of his own. The veteran from New Westminster, B.C., was the CFL’s top Canadian in 2012 after rushing for a league-high 1,457 yards — the most ever by a Canuck. He has already run for 809 yards — second only to Sheets — in 2013 despite missing a game with a thigh contusion. Earlier this season against Winnipeg, Cornish ran for 175 yards and scored a career-high four TDs, earning CFL offensive player and top Canadian weekly honours. Also worth watching is Winnipeg linebacker Henoc Muamba (57 tackles).
Receiver Craig Ellingson is having a season to remember. The six-foot-three, 197-pound rookie from Florida International is not only the Ticats’ receiving leader with 41 catches for 632 yards and four touchdowns, but stands fourth in the CFL. Ellingson was impressive during Hamilton’s training camp and hasn’t missed a beat midway through his first CFL campaign, quickly becoming a favourite target of league passing leader Henry Burris. Also worth watching is Brett Jones, Calgary’s starting centre.
A big part of Saskatchewan’s offensive success this season is the club’s offensive line and the anchor is veteran guard Brendon Labatte. The Riders certainly had high expectations for the six-foot-four, 323-pound native of Weyburn, Sask., when they signed him as a free agent prior to last season. He leads a front wall that not only creates running lanes for Sheets but also gives quarterback Darian Durant time to look downfield. There’s a reason why the Riders lead the CFL in rushing yards and total offensive yards. But also worth noting is Riders’ tackle Ben Heenan. The six-foot-four, 310-pound former Regina Rams star was taken first overall in the 2012 CFL draft and started 12 games that year at guard. The second-year pro was shifted to tackle this season and hasn’t looked out of place.
Outstanding Defensive Player
Linebacker JC Sherrit won this award last year after recording a league-record 130 tackles. At the halfway point of this campaign, Montreal linebacker Chip Cox has 71 tackles, putting him on pace to shatter Sherrit’s mark. The five-foot-nine, 185-pound Cox has also registered three sacks and an interception and is enjoying his best CFL season. Last year, the former Ohio University star recorded a career-high 82 tackles. Also worth watching are defensive lineman Alex Hall of Winnipeg (league-best 11 sacks) and Charleston Hughes of Calgary (eight sacks).
Outstanding Special-Teams Player
He’s the CFL’s leading scorer with 106 points, but what set Calgary Stampeders kicker Rene Paredes apart from the others was his incredible streak of 39 straight successful field goals. That run ended in Calgary’s 35-14 road win over Toronto on Aug. 23 when Parades failed to convert from 22 yards out. It’s the only field goal Paredes has missed in 27 attempts. Parades broke Paul McCallum’s CFL record of 30 straight field goals July 29. In his third season with Calgary, Parades is 101 of 115 career attempts (87.8 per cent) and made 40-of-43 tries last year (93 per cent).