CALGARY — Time has done little to slow Anthony Calvillo down.
The 16-year veteran enjoyed a banner ’09 season, completing a stellar 72 per cent of his passes in helping lead the Montreal Alouettes to a CFL-best 15-3 record. His passing completion average was the best he’s enjoyed since coming north of the border in 1994 with the expansion Las Vegas Posse.
What’s more, Calvillo finished the season with a league-high 108.4 quarterback rating that exceeded last year’s mark and surrendered just six interceptions in 550 pass attempts, the fewest picks given up by a CFL starter.
Not surprising, Calvillo, 37, was once again named the East Division’s nominee for the CFL’s outstanding player award for the second straight year after winning the honour in ’08. Joffrey Reynolds of the Calgary Stampeders, the league’s top rusher in 2009, earned the West Division nomination.
The CFL will honour its best individual performers Thursday night at its annual awards banquet. Here’s a look at who should prevail.
Calvillo has flourished the past two seasons under head coach Marc Trestman’s pass-first offensive approach and it’s no coincidence the Alouettes find themselves in the Grey Cup for the second straight year and seventh time since 2000. Calvillo’s experience alone creates a huge challenge for a defence because, frankly, there’s precious little Calvillo hasn’t seen during his stellar CFL career. With a solid supporting cast around him, Calvillo is a master of not only finding the open receiver, but also spreading the wealth. Montreal had three 1,000-yard receivers this season and the presence of tailback Avon Cobourne gives Calvillo a running back who’s a rugged rusher but also capable of being a solid part of the passing game. Calvillo also anchored an offence that led the CFL in scoring (33.3 points per game), passing (288.4 yards), touchdowns (50) and passing TDs (33).
The 2009 season was the year of the running back in the CFL, with Reynolds leading the way. A record seven players ran for more than 1,000 yards this year, with Reynolds posting a league-high 1,504 yards and averaging a solid 6.4 yards per carry to go with 11 touchdowns. He also added 36 catches for 431 yards and two TDs.
The winner is: Calvillo.
Defensive ends Anwar Stewart of Montreal and Saskatchewan’s John Chick are the finalists. Stewart was part of an Alouettes defence that often dominated opponents as the squad finished first in 21 of the league’s 25 categories, including fewest points allowed (18), yards allowed (296.1 per game), rushing yards allowed (75.1 per game) and passing yards allowed (245.7 per game). Stewart finished the season with a team-high nine sacks along with 38 tackles and an interception.
Chick was a force for the Riders’ defence, finishing fourth overall in sacks with 11, just one behind league-leaders Ricky Foley of B.C., teammate Stevie Baggs and Montreal’s John Bouman. Chick also added 32 defensive tackles and two fumble recoveries.
The winner is: Chick.
Montreal slotback Ben Cahoon looks to become a third-time winner of this award, but faces stiff competition from Foley. Cahoon had a league-high 89 catches this season for 1,031 yards but only two TDs. What’s more, Cahoon’s receiving totals are his lowest since 2001. Foley had the unenviable task of replacing Cameron Wake, the former CFL sacks leader who signed in the off-season with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. The native of Courtice, Ont., performed admirably, finishing the season tied for the league lead in his first season as a CFL starter despite playing with a broken thumb.
The winner is: Foley.
Two solid choices here in Montreal’s Scott Flory and Calgary’s Ben Archibald. The six-foot-four, 300-pound Flory won this award last year and is a five-time East Division nominee. A big reason for the Alouettes’ offensive success is an offensive line that’s adept at pass and run blocking and, more importantly, keeping Calvillo untouched in the pocket. The Alouettes finished ranked third in fewest sacks allowed this season with 35. The hulking six-foot-four, 318-pound Archibald is in his first full season with the Stampeders and just his second overall. He stepped into the starting lineup last year and in 2009 helped Calgary lead the CFL in rushing, averaging 129.7 yards per game.
The winner is: Flory
Opposite ends of the special-teams spectrum here with Montreal returner Larry Taylor and B.C.’s cover specialist Jason Arakgi being the finalists.
Taylor was tops in the CFL with 788 punt-return yards and two TDs, was third in kickoff returns and returned a missed field goal for a TD. Taylor has a penchant for putting the ball on the turf at times, but he’s a threat to make the big play every time he touches the ball and more often than not gives Montreal good field position. Arakgi, a native of Oakville, Ont., is a tenacious downfield blocker, finishing second overall with 35 special-teams stops. The second-year player was hampered by a thigh injury late in the season but brought recognition to one of the most overloooked positions on a football team.
The winner is: Taylor.
Two deserving finalists here in Winnipeg defensive back Jonathan Hefney and B.C. Lions tailback Martell Mallett. Hefney was a solid contributor on the Bombers’ defence this season, registering 66 tackles and four interceptions. Mallett, meanwhile, registered 1,240 yards rushing and scored eight TDs.
The winner is: Mallett.