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They are Canadian, they are American. They play offence, they play defence, they play special teams. They are experienced, they are new to the league.
On Wednesday the Toronto Argonauts list of player award nominees was announced, as voted on by the Toronto chapter of the Football Reporters of Canada. The voters included Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun, Chris O’Leary and Don Landry of CFL.ca, as well as Chris Schultz and your humble scribbler from the radio broadcast team. Head Coach Marc Trestman also had a vote.
The nominees presented an interesting cross section of Argos.
S.J. Green was the choice as the team’s Most Outstanding Player. The receiver, in his 12th season in the league and second in Double Blue, will in likelihood surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark this week in Ottawa. He’s been his usual reliable self on the field, while providing leadership in the locker room, something that’s especially needed during a disappointing season.
He wasn’t aware of the honour when informed by Argonauts.ca that he had been named the team’s M.O.P. nominee.
“I’m honoured, I’m humbled,” said the Florida native. “It’s the first time in my career that I’ve ever been nominated for that. It’s been a rough season, but still, moments to be proud of throughout the season. This is an accomplishment to add to the list.”
One of the things Green provided was his leadership. When dealing with the reality of a disappointing won-loss record, some would be tempted to hang their head or not give it 100 percent during games, or more likely, at practice.
That’s something nobody can ever accuse Green of.
“My genetic makeup isn’t built like that,” said the receiver. “When I start a job I finish it. I’m passionate about this sport. Just me as a person, I don’t know how to quit. Even late in games, the coach comes to me and says I’m going to take you out, I’m like no, I want to finish this.”
Argonauts.ca also had the pleasure of telling Trumaine Washington that he had been selected as the team’s nominee for Most Outstanding Rookie, a unanimous selection. Fresh out of the University of Louisville, the defensive back is ten years minus ten days younger that the M.O.P. nominee. The transition from being one of the oldest players in the locker room to being one of the youngest was as much of a culture shock as moving to a new country and playing a different brand of football.
“That was weird,” laughed Washington, when asked what it was like having teammates who have a wife and kids. “Hanging around guys who are so mature, who are older and have families, that was a challenge, but they welcomed me with open arms so that was great.”
Washington got his first taste of action as the strong side linebacker against Winnipeg on July 21st. He made an immediate impact, forcing a fumble that Jermaine Gabriel would return for a touchdown. It was part of a learning experience that Washington is eager to add to next year.
“I’m coming back with a lot of confidence,” said the Miami native. “I’m a very confident man and have got a lot of passion for the game. Just being a part of this team, this organization, the city of Toronto, I love it here man, it’s great.”
Sean McEwen is another younger player who is getting used to collecting individual accolades. In 2016 he was named the Argos Most Outstanding Rookie, while last year he was named the team’s and East Division’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman as well as the CFL’s All-Star centre. This year he’s been chosen as the team’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman and Most Outstanding Canadian.
He was grateful for the acknowledgement from the media, but knows he has even more to give.
“To my standard I think I played fairly well,” admitted McEwen begrudgingly. “I think there are things I could have done better. I think the way our season has gone you wonder what could I do to help us more? I think that after every single play, after every single game.”
McEwen was quick to thank his coaches and his teammates for helping him develop as a pro. It’s easy to forget that the Calgary native has only played three seasons in the league and is still learning. What did was his biggest area of improvement in 2018?
“I think just having more confidence in one-on-one matchups,” he admitted. “Honestly. It sounds simple, but I think the more you play the more you get used to your opponents, and just being able to go out there and having that feeling that ’I want to be dominant today.’ Obviously it doesn’t always happen, there are a lot of really good players in this league, but just having more confidence at this time this year than I did at this time last year.”
McEwen sets the bar high for young players, and this year Justin Herdman took a big step in reaching it. The second-year linebacker from the University of Manitoba was selected at the Argos Most Outstanding Special Teams Player. He’s among the league leaders with 19 special teams tackles.
“It’s an honour and I’m thankful for it,” said a surprised Herdman, mere seconds after being informed of his nomination. He’s improved his preparation this season. “Have a plan. Have a plan from the time you get to the game, write notes down. Just being consistent with the little things pretty much and it’s going to carry over to game day.”
Special Teams Coordinator Kevin Eiben was thrilled for Herdman when he heard the news.
“Justin is eager to learn,” said the former Argos special teams terror of his protégé. “He’s physical. He’s one of the up and coming great Canadian linebackers. I love coaching him, he’s always hungry to learn more. He’s the nicest guy you’ll meet, I’m ecstatic he was nominated for this award.”
The final nominee is defensive tackle Cleyon Laing, voted the Argos Most Outstanding Defensive Player. A two-time All-Star, Laing’s presence at defensive tackle is noticeable. Despite being double teamed more often than not, he leads the team with six sacks.
He was honoured by the recognition, but would trade it in a second for more team success.”
“It doesn’t excite me as much as a Grey Cup victory would, or even making the playoffs,” said Laing, “But to be recognized for my efforts is a good feeling.”
Playing defensive tackle can be a thankless job. It’s easy for interior linemen on both sides of the ball to get lost, but Laing was still able to turn heads with his play.
“I just try to be someone that our guys can look at as a playmaker,” Laing told Argonauts.ca. “In some situations I try to look at myself as a game changer, someone that can try to turn it around. Obviously it didn’t happen this year, but it’s something that I put on my shoulders. It’s something that I expect of myself, to always be able to, regardless of the situation, be able to go out there and play my best ball.”
There have been 16 games in the CFL this season decided by four points or less and the Argos have been involved in half of them, posting a 4-4 record to date. The team’s record could be better than it is, but as evidenced by the quality of athletes recognized on Wednesday, there is little doubt the team has a very good core group of players as it looks to prepare for the 2019 season.