Ricky Ray, Mike Reilly among CFL outstanding player finalists

Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly, picture above. (Nathan Denette/CP)

TORONTO — It’s one of the few CFL accomplishments to have evaded Ricky Ray.

The Toronto Argonauts’ veteran quarterback was named the East Division’s outstanding player nominee Thursday. Edmonton’s Mike Reilly got the West Division nod.

It’s the third time Ray, a three-time Grey Cup champion over 15 CFL seasons, has earned the nomination. In 2013, he was the runner-up to Calgary running back Jon Cornish of New Westminster, B.C., before finishing behind B.C. linebacker Solomon Elimimian in ’14 when the Lions’ star became the first pure defensive player to win the honour.

"Any time you can win an award, I mean, it’s nice," Ray said. "I don’t want to downplay it too much but during the season it really doesn’t mean anything just because you’re so focused on what you’re trying to accomplish as a team.

"There’s always been great players in this league and I just haven’t played well enough to win that award. Even with the all-star and MOP stuff, those are for the individual to enjoy at the end of the year whereas now it’s all about the team and we want to be the team at the end of the year saying we’re the best."

On Wednesday, Ray was named an East Division all-star. Toronto (9-9) finished first in the conference and will host either Saskatchewan or Ottawa on Nov. 19.

"Obviously it would be great to win (MOP)," Ray said. "But coach has talked about how you become immortal as an athlete is by winning a championship.

"Winning an individual award, that’s for yourself. I’d much rather be immortal and have my name on that Grey Cup again."

The other nominees include linebackers Alex Singleton of Calgary and Kyries Hebert of Montreal (defensive player), Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris and Ottawa receiver Brad Sinopoli (Canadian), Winnipeg tackle Stanley Bryant and Toronto centre Sean McEwen (lineman), Calgary’s Roy Finch and Ottawa’s Diontae Spencer (special teams), Calgary receiver Marken Michel and Toronto running back James Wilder (rookie) as well as Trestman and Calgary’s Dave Dickenson (coach of the year).

Voting was conducted by the Football Reporters of Canada and eight CFL head coaches. The award winners will be honoured Nov. 23 in Ottawa.

Ray, 38, led the CFL in pass attempts (668) and completions (442) while finishing behind Reilly (5,830) in yards (5,546). After missing 24 combined regular-season games to injury over 2015-16, a resilient Ray started 17-of-18 games under Trestman.

"I don’t know where we’d be without him," Trestman said. "I think the quarterback play in the league this year has been outstanding.

"Every team in the playoffs has a quarterback who’s really had an outstanding season … and made the plays when teams needed them and I think (Ray) is in the mix with guys that are certainly deserving of being recognized."

Ray became just the third player to surpass 5,000 yards in a season for a fourth time (Hall of Famers Anthony Calvillo and Doug Flutie are the others). Ray and Reilly both had 12 300-yard games with Ray’s 506-yard effort in a season-opening 32-15 win over Hamilton standing as the league high.

Toronto stood second overall in both offensive yards (393.4 per game) and passing yards (320.9) behind Edmonton (and 406.8 and 331.8, respectively).

Reilly, 32, not only led the CFL in passing and finished tied for first in TD passes (30) but scored a league-high 12 rushing touchdowns. He led Edmonton (12-6) to five straight wins to end the regular season and clinch third in the West Division.

"I’m proud to represent our team, that we have a representative in there because I think we are deserving of that as a team," Reilly told reporters in Edmonton. "But there was only one guy that could represent our team and I was selected for that. There were plenty of other guys that were just as deserving."

Reilly also became just the sixth player to register consecutive 5,000-yard passing campaigns.

Singleton, 24, recorded 123 tackles — most by a Canadian — in his first full season as a starter. Calgary’s defence allowed a league-low 349 points (19.4 per game) while recording a CFL-leading 50 sacks and 45 turnovers.

Hebert, 37, was a bright spot for Montreal (3-15), finishing third overall in tackles (108). He’s the first player in CFL history over the age of 35 to surpass 100 tackles, his previous best being 78 recorded last year.

It was a record-breaking campaign for Harris as the Winnipeg native had a CFL-best 105 catches, the most ever by a running back. He also led the league in rushing (1,035 yards) as the Bombers (12-6) earned their first home playoff game since 2011.

Sinopoli was the league’s top Canadian last year. The Peterborough, Ont., native had 91 catches for 1,009 yards with three TDs before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

The six-foot-five, 308-pound Bryant anchored a Winnipeg offensive line created holes for Harris and protected quarterback Matt Nichols (4,472 yards, 28 TDs). The Bombers led the CFL in rushing (101.3 yards per game) and were second in offensive points (26.7 per game).

McEwen, 24, is completing his second season with Toronto, who took the six-foot-three, 297-pound Calgary native third overall in 2015. The Argos led the CFL in pass attempts (713) and completions (502) while finishing second in passing yards and net offence.

The five-foot-11, 190-pound Michel had 41 catches for 780 yards (19-yard average) and three TDs with Calgary. The six-foot-three, 232-pound Wilder Jr. had 872 yards rushing (7.2-yard average) and five touchdowns in 17 games — 10 starts — with Toronto while adding 51 catches for 533 yards.

Finch had a club record-tying three punt return TDs this season as the five-foot-seven, 165-pound dynamo amassed a league-best 1,200 yards. His 16.4-yard average was the third-best in CFL history and Finch added 696 kickoff-return yards.

Spencer capped his first season with Ottawa accumulating a CFL-record 496 all-purpose yards in a 41-36 win over Hamilton on Oct. 27. Spencer was fourth in punt returns (70, 929 yards, one TD) and kickoff returns (25 for 607 yards) but first in missed field goal returns (five, 260 yards, one touchdown).

Dickenson was the CFL’s top coach last season. He led Calgary (13-4-1) to first in the West Division and home field for the conference final.

Trestman, the CFL’s top coach in ’09 with Montreal, joined Toronto after four seasons in the NFL. After finishing last in the East Division with a 5-13 mark last year, the Argos finished first under Trestman.


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