With the 99th Grey Cup just days away, let’s take a look back at the 2011 season that was and award several players some awards for their efforts on the field.
Below I list the players I felt were deserving of each award and a little background information from the season that was.
Most Outstanding Player: Jamel Richardson – Slotback for Montreal Alouettes
Jamel Richardson has been a player in the Canadian Football League for eight years, spending the last four with Montreal. Each of his four seasons, Richardson has achieved the 1,000 yard receiving mark, and this season smashed his highest point by almost 500 yards.
Richardson made his mark on the season right off the bat against the B.C. Lions, with 162 yards receiving and two touchdowns. He followed that up with a 114 yard effort against the Saskatchewan Roughriders a week later.
By the season’s end, Jamel Richardson acclaimed twelve games on the season in which he either had, or received more than, 100 yards and on average had 98.7 yards per game. His average yards per catch were the highest in his career as well at 15.9 yards a catch, and had 117 catches overall.
Most Outstanding Offensive Player – Brandon Whitaker – Running Back for Montreal Alouettes
Coming into the 2011 season, Brandon Whitaker had two seasons under his belt as an understudy to Avon Cobourne, who was Montreal’s primary back for the last three seasons before being acquired by Hamilton this offseason.
Having not taken the majority of first team reps, Whitaker came in on day one and took over where his protégée left off, rushing for over 1,000 yards and claiming the rushing title in his first full season.
Whitaker started the season strong at 313 yards in his first four games. Although Whitaker only rushed over the century mark six times over the 18-game season, his yards were always critical and helped in getting first downs for the team.
By season’s end, Whitaker accumulated 1,381 rushing yards on 226 attempts, beating last year’s runner-up from Toronto, Cory Boyd, who finished with 1,141 yards.
Most Outstanding Defensive Player – Jovon Johnson – Defensive Back for Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Jovon Johnson has been in the league for five seasons, making his debut with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and winning a Grey Cup ring in the end.
However, Johnson never felt he was a part of that unit. He sold his ring and joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the team he just won a Grey Cup ring against, and has since been an All-Star in every right.
In his first season with the Blue and Gold, Johnson recorded 57 tackles, four special team tackles, recovered fumbles twice and three interceptions while returning two for touchdowns.
For an encore, Johnson recorded 75 tackles and one special teams tackle while returning one of his six interceptions for a touchdown. That allowed Johnson to be selected as the Eastern All-Star and to the All-Star team.
Now in his fourth season with the Blue and Gold, Johnson has won the Eastern All-Star title for the third straight time in his career, while helping lead his 2011 Bombers to the Grey Cup.
Most Outstanding Canadian: Jerome Messam – Running Back for Edmonton Eskimos
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It’s unfortunate that Jerome Messam suffered a season-ending knee injury in their win over the Calgary Stampeders in the Western Semi-Finals, as Messam could have very well been a difference-maker in that game.
Instead, Messam had to watch from the sidelines as his team was handily defeated Sunday afternoon by the B.C. Lions 40-23.
This is not to take away from what Messam was able to accomplish on the field, rushing for 1,057 yards and six touchdowns, as well as being named the Canadian of the Week five times.
The last time a Canadian running back rushed for over 1,000 yards has not been accomplished since the days of Sean Millington, back in the 2000 season.
Most Outstanding Rookie – Chris Williams – Receiver for Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Chris Williams burst onto the scene in 2011 making a huge impact for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, recording three games over the century mark in receiving and going for 189 yards and two touchdowns in his third game with the team.
Throughout the season, Williams made himself a viable target for quarterbacks Kevin Glenn and Quinton Porter, receiving 70 catches for 1,064 yards and six touchdowns. Williams' stock grew tremendously as Arland Bruce’s continued on a downward spiral, and Williams took over shortly after Bruce was traded to B.C.
Most Outstanding Coach – Wally Buono – Head Coach of B.C. Lions
Coaching in his ninth Grey Cup, Wally Buono will tie Don Matthews for most Grey Cup appearances this Sunday evening as the B.C. Lions take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
While you could easily argue that either head coach in the big game, Paul LaPolice for Winnipeg or Wally Buono for B.C. could win this title, you just have to give the edge to Buono in the end.
Both coaches had their team go completely different routes to get to the Grey Cup. For Buono, his team struggled out of the gate losing five straight (once to Winnipeg), before turning their season around and winning 12 of their 13 games down the stretch to reach the big game.
On top of the turnaround that Buono and the Lions endured, the Lions were honoured 14 times over the season with Player of the Week mentions, with six of those going to their special teams.
Paul LaPolice is young into his head coaching career, and if he can continue his ways will certainly have many more chances but, unfortunately, Wally Buono will take the deed here.