Evan Daum, Canada West Communications
HAMILTON – Another season, another passing yards record and another Canada West quarterback named the Hec Crighton Award winner as national player of the year.
After posting one of the greatest individual seasons in U Sports football history, Regina Rams quarterback Noah Picton was named the top player in university football Thursday night in Hamilton at the U Sports award banquet ahead of Saturday's Vanier Cup.
The third-year pivot is the first Ram to win the national award after Jason Clermont (2001) and Teale Orban (2006, 2007) both fell short of the national award after claiming the Frank Gnup Memorial Award as Canada West outstanding player.
"I had a speech prepared and the whole way through it I was nervous as could be. I thought I was ready to go, but it was nerve racking," said Picton, who found out he was the national award winner prior to making the trek to Hamilton.
"It's an absolute honour to be named the Hec Crighton winner. You look at some of the names on this trophy and you look at the guys in this country, it's very humbling to be in the conversation with some of these guys, so it was an incredible night."
Picton's win comes after the Regina native posted 3,186 passing yards to break the national record set just last season by Calgary Dino turned Stampeder Andrew Buckley.
"As a young guy in the league, the last few years I looked up to Andrew Buckley and still do," said Picton. "I consider him one of the best football players I've ever played against."
"(The past winners) have done some incredible things with their football careers and I've still got a lot of work to do to be on the same pedestal as those guys."
"But to have my name on this trophy and to have that never be taken away from me is something very special to me."
Picton was the unanimous choice among Canada West's six head coaches as the conference's top player in 2016.
The business administration student surpassed Buckley's total of 3,162 passing yards set during Calgary's 8-0 2015 regular season.
A product of Dr. Martin LeBoldus High School in Regina, Picton led the nation in touchdown passes (25) and completion percentage (69.3). He ranked second in the country with a Canada West-record 224 completions, and threw only nine interceptions in 323 passing attempts. He also contributed 238 yards and two majors on the ground.
Picton led the Rams to a 6-2 regular season record and the program's first-ever first-place finish, before bowing out of the Hardy Cup semis with a 40-34 loss to the UBC Thunderbirds.
"The itch is there. You feel like you should still be playing football. You feel like you could still be competing with the teams playing this weekend, but the cards fell how they did in that UBC game," commented Picton on looking forward to 2017.
"We're going into the offseason with a bitter taste and we're looking forward to getting back out there next fall, getting in the huddle and playing some football."
Picton's win kept the Canada West streak of Hec Crighton award winners alive, as the Ram followed up back-to-back wins by Buckley, who will play in Sunday's Grey Cup with the Calgary Stampeders.
The national award was fitting recognition for Picton, who led the nation's most prolific passing attack, as the Rams returned to their identity as an explosive aerial team. Regina had long been regarded as a passing juggernaut, developing that reputation under former head coach Frank McCrystal and his offensive coordinator Bernie Schmidt.
Regina's pass first approach was rejuvenated this season under first-year head coach Steve Bryce, who was the Canada West nominee for the Frank Tindall Award as coach of the year, along with offensive coordinator Mark McConkey who along with the rest of the staff rejuvenatedthe Rams following their 0-8 season in 2015.
"It was more about a philosophy of believe in yourself and believe you can achieve anything," said Bryce of giving not only Picton, but the entire team a chance to shine. "There was an expectation almost of failure in close games when I got here, and losing so many close games they really didn't have a lot of self-confidence."
"We worked hard as a staff to engrain some confidence in these guys and they ate it up. Now they believe they can beat anybody on any given day."
PAIR OF BISONS EARN NATIONAL HONOURS
Manitoba's DJ Lalama and Cam Teschuk took home major awards of their own on Thursday, as Lalama was named the Presidents' Trophy winner as national defensive player of the year, while Teschuk earned the Russ Jackson award for academics, football and community service.
Lalama led the conference and the country from his linebacker position with 72.5 total tackles – 16 more than his next closest competitor in Canada West.
A 2016 CFL Draft pick of the Edmonton Eskimos, he started all eight games for Manitoba, and added seven break-ups, three forced fumbles and 2.5 tackles for loss to his impressive tackle total.
He is the first Canada West player to take home the award since Regina's Mat Nesbitt in 2007 and firs Bison to earn the honour since Joey Mikawoz in 2000.
"I am very happy and this is a well-deserved honour for DJ. A leader on our defence, he is also a leader in the locker room and our community as he was a finalist for the Russ Jackson Award last season. He is an outstanding player and person," said Bisons head coach Brian Dobie.
As for Teschuk, he wins the prestigious Russ Jackson Award after combining excellence as an athlete, student and citizen.
On the field, Teschuk recorded 23 total tackles and added a fumble recovery while playing in eight games for the Herd, just as he did the previous three seasons.
Off the field, Teschuk is a four-time All-Canadian business student, a Rhodes scholar applicant and active member of the Winnipeg volunteer community, working on several initiatives with the homeless, including the Five Days for the Homeless campaign, which raises awareness of youth homelessness.
In addition, Teschuk has worked with Bison Book Buddies and the Bison Buddy Bash, which sees student-athletes go to schools to read and play sports with kids. His football expertise has also extended off campus as a coach, working with both the Blue Bomber Crunchers Youth Football Camp and with the Manitoba Fearless – a woman's spring football team.
"I am proud of Cam. I have coached for 42 years and during that time he is unquestionably one of the best people I have known through the game of football," said Dobie. "Cam is an absolute teammate, great friend, and an unselfish and tireless worker who always seems to be doing the right things for the common good and the well-being of those that surround him."
NOTES: Regina Ram Nicholas Dheilly (Rookie of the year – Peter Gorman Award), Manitoba's Geoff Gray (Outstanding down lineman – JP Metras Award), and Calgary's Marcello Rapini (Assistant coach – Gino Fracas Award) were also up for national awards…The 52nd Vanier Cup goes Saturday, November 26 at 1 p.m. ET at Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field…The Calgary Dinos take on the Laval Rouge et Or in a rematch of the 2013 championship game…Calgary is looking for the program's fifth national title and first since 1995.