VANCOUVER — Travis Lulay provided yet another sign there’s changing of the guard underway among the CFL’s elite quarterbacks.
The B.C. Lions star captured the CFL’s outstanding player Thursday night ahead of Montreal Alouettes veteran Anthony Calvillo. The third-year pro received 44 of 62 possible ballots in voting conducted by members of the Football Reporters of Canada and the CFL’s eight head coaches.
“It’s extremely humbling to just be mentioned with someone like Anthony Calvillo,” Lulay said. “He would’ve been incredibly deserving had he won because he had an outstanding year.
“I’ve always been a confident guy and confident in my ability to play but three years ago I couldn’t plan six months ahead. I just want to soak it all in right now because it’s very, very special.”
Lions’ teammate Paul McCallum was named top special-teams player. The other winners included Edmonton Eskimos tailback Jerome Messam (Canadian), Winnipeg Blue Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson (defensive player), Montreal Alouettes tackle Josh Bourke (lineman) and Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver Chris Williams (rookie).
The CFL player awards were sponsored by Gibson’s Finest.
Hamilton quarterback Kevin Glenn received the Tom Pate award for outstanding community service while Larry Reda captured the Commissioner’s award for his longtime service to B.C. minor football.
Lulay, 28, named the CFL’s all-star quarterback recently ahead of Calvillo, enjoyed a banner first full season as B.C.’s starter. He finished second to Calvillo in passing yards (4,815 to Calvillo’s 5,251) but was tied with Calvillo in TD strikes (32 each) despite attempting 71 fewer passes.
What’s more, Lulay helped the Lions turn their season around. After opening with five straight losses, Lulay led B.C. to victory in 11 of its final 13 games — including a 43-1 thumping of Calvillo and the Alouettes on Nov. 5 — before a 40-23 West Division final win over Edmonton last weekend.
Lulay and the Lions cap their season Sunday in the Grey Cup game against Winnipeg. B.C. will be attempting to become just the fourth CFL team to win the league title on home soil.
Lulay solidified his standing by outplaying Calvillo over the final 11 games of the regular season. Lulay had more TD passes (25-19) and fewer interceptions (three compared to five for Calvillo) and on Nov. 5 threw four TD passes and added 51 yards rushing while Calvillo had just 63 yards passing before being replaced by Adrian McPherson in the second half.
“It says a lot for him as a football player because to start 0-5 and not give up and have the confidence to have that (type) of turnaround shows what type of quarterback he can be,” Calvillo said of Lulay. “The hardest part is now he’s set himself a standard that the guys in the locker-room are going to look for, you guys (media) will look for.
“The hardest part is staying there, that’s the challenge for any quarterback.”
Calvillo, 39, was looking for his fourth career outstanding player award. Earlier this season, he broke Damon Allen’s all-time CFL records for touchdown passes, attempts and passing yards.
He did so after undergoing surgery for thyroid cancer following Montreal’s Grey Cup victory last year. Calvillo remained non-commital Thursday regarding his plans for next season.
Messam, a Toronto native who grew up in Brampton, Ont., made the most of his second chance. The Eskimos obtained the six-foot-three, 245-pound Messam from B.C. on June 19 for a 2013 fifth-round pick and he rewarded them by finishing third in CFL rushing with 1,057 yards, becoming the first Canadian-born 1,000-yard rusher since B.C.’s Sean Millington in 2000.
Messam, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Edmonton’s playoff win over Calgary, was a landslide winner with 55 votes.
“In June I didn’t know if I’d have a job or not,” Messam said. “I was hoping to get an opportunity and I did and I seized it.
“(Eskimos coach) Kavis Reed has had a tremendous role in my success. He gave me a clean slate, took me under his wing and told me he’d support me and he’s a man of his word.”
Montreal kicker Sean Whyte was the finalist.
Johnson received 37 votes after posting a CFL-high eight interceptions this season, returning two for TDs. He added 55 tackles for a stingy Winnipeg defence that allowed 301.1 yards and 223.1 yards passing per game, both league lows.
Afterwards, Johnson paid tribute to Richard Harris, Winnipeg’s former defensive co-ordinator who died earlier this season.
“I think about him all the time,” Johnson said. “He’s the reason I stayed in Winnipeg when my contract was up in 2009.
“Being a player who always heard I was too small or not fast enough, this is a chance to say to those people I was worth it.”
Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Jerrell Freeman was the finalist.
McCallum, 41, was the night’s surprise winner, receiving 42 votes to get the nod over Toronto’s Chad Owens, last year’s special-teams winner.
McCallum, the CFL’s oldest player, hit 50-of-53 field goals, his 94.3 per cent success ratio breaking Lui Passaglia’s league mark of 90.9. McCallum also made a CFL-record 30 consecutive field goals and was the league’s scoring leader with 203 points.
“It probably took me 12 years to figure out what I needed to do,” McCallum said in explaining why he’s kicking so well in his 19th CFL season. “I don’t try to hit the ball as hard as I used to, I hit it as hard as I have to.
“I still feel I can do it, I feel good, I feel strong and feel good doing it.”
Owens became the first player in pro football history to surpass 3,000 all-purpose yards two straight years. He led the CFL with 2,609 combined return yards and also took one punt and one kickoff back for touchdowns.
The six-foot-seven, 315-pound Bourke, a native of Windsor, Ont., received 35 votes despite sustaining a late-season shoulder injury. Montreal allowed an East Division-low 34 sacks while leading the CFL in scoring (28.6 points per game), total offence (403.8 yards per game) and passing (309 yards per game).
Bourke, who underwent surgery almost three weeks ago, said winning the award has helped him take a step forward in his career.
“I’d trade it for team awards or Grey Cups anyday,” Bourke said. “But it’s a step for me and a standard I’ll try to uphold.”
B.C.’s Jovan Olafioye was the runner-up.
After joining Hamilton late last season, Williams cracked the starting lineup this year and made an immediate impact. The former New Mexico State star received 48 votes after registering 70 catches for 1,064 yards and six TDs.
Williams has no plans to rest on his laurels, especially considering Hamilton’s season ended with a bitter 19-3 loss to Winnipeg in the East Division final.
“Losing that is more than enough incentive to get better,” Williams said. “But I was just trying to find my way on to the field, really, and now to see this trophy is unreal.”
Edmonton linebacker J.C. Sherritt was the finalist.