Argos rise to the top at 2023 CFL Awards
NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. — The Toronto Argonauts are not playing for the big prize this Grey Cup Sunday, but perhaps they can find some solace in the fact that the team’s historic 150th anniversary season has been recognized with a dominant night at the 2023 CFL Awards.
Five of the night’s seven awards went to Argos, headlined by quarterback Chad Kelly, who was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player in this, his second year in the CFL and first year as a starter.
Head Coach Ryan Dinwiddie, offensive lineman Dejon Allen, defensive back Qwan’tez Stiggers and kick return specialist Javon Leake all heard their names called before the night was through, ensuring the Avalon Theatre at Fallsview Casino & Resort in Niagara Falls, Ont. was awash in two shades of blue.
110th GREY CUP
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Winnipeg Blue Bomber running back Brady Oliveira — runner-up to Kelly in the MOP voting — was named Outstanding Canadian, while sack-master BC Lions’ defensive end Mathieu Betts took home the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award.
Kelly became the first Toronto Argonaut to be named Outstanding Player since Chad Owens since 2012 and the first Argo quarterback to take home the prize since Damon Allen in 2005. The 29-year-old threw for 4,123 yards and 23 touchdowns during the regular season, rushing for eight more touchdowns. It was a season that saw Kelly build off his sensational relief appearance in the 2022 Grey Cup game, and one in which he quickly established himself as the cornerstone of the Toronto franchise.
Dinwiddie led the Argos to first place in the East Division for the third year in a row, guiding the Boatmen to a team record 16 victories in 2023. His win in this category reverses the outcome of 2022, when Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea was named over Dinwiddie.
Stiggers was a surprise starter for the Argonauts in 2023, joining the team after having played no college ball at all. At just 21 years old, he joined the Argos fresh off a stint in the Fan Controlled Football League, an indoor league in the United States. Stiggers impressed CFL fans with his natural abilities as well as some ‘beyond-his-years’ football wisdom, pulling down five interceptions in his rookie campaign. Edmonton defensive back Kai Grey was the runner-up.
Stiggers wasn’t the only Argo to bust through in 2023. While Javon Leake returned kicks for Toronto in 2022, he did it with only limited success. But you could not say the same about this year, as Leake electrified the Argo return game with 1,216 punt return yards, scoring four majors and popping an astounding 13 punt returns for more than 30 yards. BC Lions kicker Sean Whyte was the West representative in final balloting.
Veteran Dejon Allen rounded out the Double Blue awards contingent, being named Outstanding Offensive Lineman a year after he finished as the runner-up in the category. At right tackle, Allen helped anchor a line that allowed just 19 sacks in 2023, by far and away tops in the CFL. In voting by the Football Reporters of Canada as well as all nine CFL head coaches — as was the case in all categories — Allen took home the award over Winnipeg’s Jermarcus Hardrick.
A couple of superstar National players rounded out the winners’ circle as Lions’ defensive end Mathieu Betts became the first Canadian-born player to win the Most Outstanding Defensive Player award since Brent Johnson in 2006. Coincidentally, Johnson won the award as a BC Lion, too, and had held the record for single-season sacks by a Canadian with 17. That is until Betts, a native of Kingston, ON, broke that record with 18 this year. Argo SAM linebacker Adarius Pickett was the Eastern nominee in the category.
Oliveira’s loss to Kelly as Outstanding Player was tempered with his being voted Outstanding Canadian, getting the nod over Montreal free safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy. And it could be further tempered if the Blue Bombers go on to win this Sunday’s Grey Cup, of course, when Oliveira’s Blue Bombers meet Dequoy’s Alouettes at Tim Hortons field, in Hamilton.
Oliveira had one of the great seasons a National running back has ever had. The Winnipeg native shone as a dual-threat back, rushing for 1,534 yards and nine touchdowns while hauling in 38 catches for 482 yards and four more majors in 2023.