The awards are starting to pile up for a trio of Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
On Thursday, a day after they were named CFL Western Division all-stars, it was announced Willie Jefferson, Stanley Bryant and Mike Miller are finalists for league awards.
For the second year in a row, a Bomber will represent the West Division for the most outstanding defensive player award. Last year, Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill took home the award. This year, Jefferson will have a chance to do so. he’s up against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ Simoni Lawrence.
Jefferson has been a stud in his first season with the Blue and Gold, setting a CFL record for pass knockdowns by a defensive lineman with a league-leading total of 16. Jefferson also led the CFL with six forced fumbles and was third in sacks with 12. Jefferson added an interception and two fumble recoveries to his impressive campaign.
"It just shows I put in a lot of work this season, put in a lot of work this off-season," Jefferson said after Thursday’s practice. "Just trying to be the best pass rusher I can be, the best defensive player I can be, and this is the accolade that proves it. This season, new team, new system, new coaches, new environment, new teammates and stuff like that, just for me to be able to come over here and get into this system and play the way I’ve been able to play is amazing."
Bryant is looking to three-peat as the CFL’s most outstanding lineman. The five-time all-star has proven to be one of the best free-agent signings in Bombers history as he hasn’t missed a game since joining the club in 2015. Bryant would become the first player to win the award in three straight seasons. Hamilton’s Chris Van Zeyl is the East Division finalist.
"You never think about things like that," Bryant said of the possibility of making history. "I’d just be shocked to even be in that category and be able to get to that point. Just got to continue to build and see how things go."
Miller is up for the league’s most outstanding special-teams player award. The nine-year CFL veteran was tied with teammate Kerfalla Exumé with 25 tackles on special teams for the second-most in the CFL. Miller has 185 career special-teams tackles, which ranks second behind former B.C. Lion Jason Arakgi (190).
With the Bombers featuring several special-teams studs such as kicker Justin Medlock and return man Janarion Grant, Miller becoming the West Division representative for the award is an impressive feat in itself. Miller will also be up against a member of the Ticats as Frankie Williams is the East Division finalist.
"(Medlock and Grant) are top-quality players in the league, so to make it out of our team was big, too," Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said. "Obviously, there’s people around the league who recognize that. He’s a tough matchup when you get him out there."
Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Cody Fajardo and Ticats receiver/returner Brandon Banks were named the finalists for the most outstanding player award. Saskatchewan also has linebacker Cameron Judge up for most outstanding Canadian and Craig Dickenson for coach of the year. Montreal Alouettes linebacker Henoc Muamba will challenge Judge for top Canadian and Hamilton’s Orlondo Steinauer is the East Division’s finalist for coach of the year. The Calgary Stampeders only have one finalist, as linebacker Nate Holley joins Alouettes receiver Jake Wieneke in the running for most outstanding rookie.
O’Shea confirmed on Thursday defensive back Anthony Gaitor is no longer a member of the Blue Bombers. O’Shea said he switched Gaitor’s role from SAM linebacker to something else, but the defender wasn’t happy with the decision and opted to not return to Winnipeg. Prior to the season, Gaitor signed an extension through the 2020 season. Gaitor will be replaced by Mercy Maston.
"I gave him a different role and he decided not to accept it," O’Shea said.
Quarterback Chris Streveler, a full participant at Wednesday’s practice, was on the field in street clothes Thursday. Still, O’Shea did not rule Streveler out for Sunday’s playoff matchup against the Calgary Stampeders.
"He wasn’t able to go, but we’ll see when we set the roster what it looks like," O’Shea said.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.