Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Matthews by a mile

Bomber receiver storms to CFL's Most Outstanding Rookie award

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TORONTO -- Earlier in the day, Milt Stegall praised Chris Matthews for being humble and then chastised him for not being more confident.

"What did I just tell you? It's not if you win. It's when you win," chided Stegall.

Turns out the legend was right.

Matthews was named Most Outstanding Rookie at the Gibson's Finest Most Outstanding Player Awards here Thursday night.

The Blue Bombers wide receiver received 53 first-place votes from the 57 media and team personnel from around the league that voted. Matthews is the first Bombers rookie to grab the award since Gavin Walls in 2005.

"I really don't have anything written down, but, Winnipeg gave me a chance to go out and showcase my talents, and I'd like to just thank the organization for all they have done for me," said Matthews, in his acceptance speech. "The quarterbacks; the receivers; Terrence Edwards; Milt Stegall, who has helped me out a lot; the defence, they gave a great defensive scheme, showing us every coverage they can out there in practice, so I want to thank them; my parents; my brother who is sitting in the stands right now; and, most of all, the Lord."

Matthews was asked after he left the stage about his friendship with Stegall, the greatest receiver in Bombers and arguably league history.

"We have a great relationship. I call him, you know, just to talk, to figure out, to pick his brain and see what he's going to tell me, so I can suck up as much as I can," said Matthews. "He's a great guy. He's helped me through everything: showing me how to prepare for a game, how to prepare for the rest of the season, make sure my body is fit and ready to go for each game."

Matthews started all 18 games and finished the regular season with 81 receptions for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns, all of team-highs among Winnipeg receivers. The yardage total was sixth best in the league and his 14.7 yards per catch was the fourth best among receivers who caught over 60 passes.

"It didn't come so easy for me, at all, it was very hard. When I first started out I was just worried about making the team," said the 23-year-old California native. "Everything else just came into play. I made sure I worked out and I wanted to come into camp ready to go, so that's what happened. I'm thankful that they brought me in and allowed me to showcase my talent."

Matthews said there were some big adjustments to make coming right out of college, where he was a star at Kentucky.

"I guess, the men on the field. There's 12 players on the field, so you're sitting there, you have an extra safety or DB out there that's kind of messing up the coverage for you, because, in the NFL or American football, you can read coverage, a cover 3, pretty quickly," he said. "Out there, everything looks kind of like man to you until the ball is snapped, so adjusting to that was a pretty big thing. Buck Pierce helped me out with that a lot, coach (Marcus) Howell, and Terrence Edwards, they helped me out a lot with that."

A personal award, however, does not take the sting out of a difficult team season.

"Just a smidgen. Just a smidgen because I'm pretty hungry right now. As a team, we're going to come back out next year, and with the new stadium and everything, come out ready to fight," said Matthews. "We have a whole mindset going into next year and hopefully we get to keep a majority of our players. We're still young, so we're just going to build off of that and we're gonna make a good run at it."

Chad Owens, meanwhile, was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player.

"Four years ago I had no real idea what the CFL was," said Owens, who accepted the trophy with his nine-year-old son, Chad Jr., who completed his first year of football as a defensive player.

"Everything that happened to me prior in my career, it all happened for this moment."

Owens, 30, affectionately dubbed The Flyin' Hawaiian, got the nod over Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish in voting by the Football Reporters of Canada and the eight CFL head coaches. Owens received 41 of the 57 available ballots.

The 5-8, 180-pound Owens led the CFL in receiving (94 catches for 1,328 yards and six TDs), return yards (2,510) and all-purpose yards (league-record 3,863).

The 6-foot, 217-pound Cornish had a record-setting campaign of his own.

He led the CFL with 1,457 rushing yards, the first Canadian to do so since Ottawa's Orville Lee in 1988. Cornish, 28, also broke Norm Kwong's 56-year-old record for most rushing yards in a season by a Canuck of 1,437.

The native of New Westminster, B.C., received 54 votes as top Canadian ahead of Montreal Alouettes linebacker Shea Emry, of Richmond, B.C.

Emry, who had a career-best 87 tackles this season with seven sacks, was also a finalist for the top defensive player award, finishing behind Edmonton linebacker J.C. Sherritt.

Sherritt received 49 votes after recording a league-record 130 tackles along with three sacks and five interceptions.

The other award winners were Hamilton receiver Chris Williams (special teams); Lions offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye (lineman); and Montreal receiver Brian Bratton (Tom Pate award, community service). Twitter: @garylawless

-- with files from The Canadian Press


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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