Canada West football: Dzwilewski, Edem, Blaszko, lead parade of Dinos award-winners; Regina’s Brett Jones wins two

EDMONTON – Third-year Calgary Dinos QB Eric Dzwilewski is the Frank Gnup Trophy winner as Canada West football Player of the Year and a finalist for the prestigious CIS Hec Crighton Trophy, while Regina’s Brett Jones has won two awards.

The 2010 CIS rookie of the year, Dzwilewski had the most accurate passing season in conference history and led one of the most potent offences in school lore as the Dinos finished 7-1 and finished first in the standings for the second straight years.

The 6-foot, 185-point native of Boise, Idaho completed 154 of 218 passes on the season, throwing for 2,290 yards and 15 touchdowns. His 70.6 completion percentage was the best in the nation and set a new Canada West record, and the offence he led rewrote the Dinos record book. Calgary set new single-season team records in points, touchdowns, first downs, passing yards, completed passes, completion percentage, and total offence.

Dzwilewski threw for more than 300 yards on five different occasions during the regular season, and in the final conference game set a school record by completing 25 of 27 passes for 318 yards – a 92.6 per cent completion rate – and was named CIS offensive player of the week for his performance. And he did it all despite playing just one complete game – in six of Calgary’s eight games on the season, Dzwilewski did not see action in the fourth quarter, and three times he did not play in the second half after the Dinos had built up big leads.

He is 18-3 as a starting quarterback in conference play during his career, and through three years he is No. 5 on the Dinos’ all-time passing yards list with 4,930.

“Eric continues to develop and mature,” said Dinos head coach Blake Nill. “His work ethic has improved and is the main reason for his increased level of performance. There’s no question this is his offence, and our success parallels his performance on the field.”

Dinos receiver Brett Blaszko is the Canada West nominee for the Peter Gorman Trophy as Rookie of the Year.

Blaszko is the latest in a recent string of Calgary Dinos players to be named Canada West rookie of the year. Dating back to Dalin Tollestrup in 2006, five of the last seven top rookies in the conference have hailed from Calgary – including teammate Eric Dzwilewski, the 2010 CIS outstanding rookie.

A graduate of Corpus Christi High School in Burlington, Ont., Blaszko made an immediate impact with the Dinos. His first CIS catch went for a 65-yard touchdown in Week 1 against Regina, part of a six-catch, 104-yard debut for the 6-foot-4, 205-pound receiver. A week later against Alberta, he hauled in seven passes for 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and he added a 75-yard major Sept. 29 against Saskatchewan.

He finished the year as the fifth-leading receiver in the conference with 23 catches for 389 yards – a 16.9 yards-per-catch average – and his five touchdowns on the year trailed only one other receiver in Canada West – all despite appearing in only six games on the year.

“Brett came out of high school highly regarded and compared favourably to former Ontario high school product Andy Fantuz,” said Nill. “Right from the beginning, we knew we had a special athlete and his performance in his rookie season gives us every indication that he will be a leader for the Dinos for the foreseeable future.”

University of Regina fourth-year offensive lineman Brett Jones took home two major awards, earning Canada West’s nomination for the Russ Jackson Award as the conference’s outstanding student-athlete for the second consecutive season and the conference’s nomination for the John Metras Award as Canada West’s top lineman.

Jones, a unanimous selection as a 2012 Canada West all-star, was also a First Team All-Canadian last season. He is an exceptionally versatile football player, being heavily used at both centre and left guard this season while starting every game on the offensive line for the Rams. He’s also been utilized as a defensive tackle in short-yardage situations throughout the season.

The No. 9-ranked prospect for the 2013 CFL Draft, Jones’ on-field accomplishments may even be overshadowed by his off-field achievements. Jones has an impressive grade point average as a petroleum engineering systems major, has been an Academic All-Canadian each year at the U of R, and carries a full course load every semester including fall. He has been awarded two Academic Silver Scholarships and an Academic Gold Scholarship – which is awarded to the top 1% of U of R students in the academic year – and has also been invited to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University in England.

Jones is also active in the community, volunteering as a coach for minor football camps and in a summer touch football league run by Football Saskatchewan. He provided free football camps in several rural communities across the province this summer, convincing many of his teammates to travel hundreds of kilometres on a weekend to teach football skills. He also voluntarily tutors primary his teammates, but also others in his classes across campus.

“Brett is an exceptional person, which has translated into him being an exceptional leader on and off the field,” Rams head coach Frank McCrystal. “He plays both center and guard on offence and is a short yardage defensive tackle. He is the academic mentor for many of our players, and rallies his teammates to volunteer in the community.”

This year’s selection as conference Defensive Player of the Year and now up for the President’s Award during Vanier Cup week is outstanding linebacker Mike Edem.

Edem becomes the fourth Dinos LB in five years to win the Canada West nomination for the Presidents’ Award as the outstanding defensive player of the year, following in the footsteps of Andrea Bonaventura (2008) and Sam Hurl, who won back-to-back in 2010 and 2011.

The third-year backer from Brampton, Ont. led the conference with 55 tackles in 2012 – 10 more than the next-best total – and 9.5 tackles for loss. He averaged nearly seven tackles per game and added four sacks and an interception to his stat line. He anchored a Calgary defence that led the conference in every category, including points allowed (14.6/game), yards allowed (272.1/game), rushing yards allowed (104.4/game), and passing yards allowed (167.8/game). Calgary tied a team record with 25 sacks on the season and went more than four full games without allowing an offensive touchdown.

A converted defensive back, Edem played linebacker for the first time this season and played a key role in the defence as both a run defender inside the box as well as a pass defender on the edge in the Dinos’ defensive scheme – requiring a varied and versatile skill set – and excelled at both.

“At spring camp we made the decision made to move Mike into the linebacking corps,” said Nill. “We were excited about his potential, but his performance exceeded even our wildest expectations. As the year progressed, Mike reminded us more and more of Sam Hurl, who won this award twice.”

In his seventh season with the Dinos, Coach of the Year and Frank Tindall Trophy nominee Blake Nill led the four-time defending Hardy Cup champions to a 7-1 record in 2012 to earn Canada West coach of the year honours.

His team finished in first place for the second year in a row – the first time any University of Calgary team has captured consecutive pennants – and led the conference in virtually every category on both sides of the football. He and his staff assembled the most potent offence in school history, setting nine new single-season team records, while the defence was stingy in terms of both yards and points allowed.

Offensively, Calgary led the nation in points, total offence, passing, first downs, touchdowns, and field goals, while the Dinos boasted the top pass defence in the nation with less than 170 yards allowed through the air per game. Calgary was second in CIS in total yards allowed and third in points allowed – with nearly half their points on the year given up in the second half of the season’s final game, a wild 78-54 win over Manitoba.

In his seven seasons with the Dinos, Nill has a 39-17 record in conference play and a playoff mark of 11-5 heading into this weekend’s Hardy Cup against Regina. The Dinos have won 30 of their last 32 games at McMahon Stadium dating back to 2007.

Nill was also named Canada West coach of the year in 2009.

“Every great coach must master two disciplines – teaching and leadership – and clearly Blake Nill has mastered both,” said Ron Wuotila, the Dinos’ director of athletics. “Couple that with his incredible work ethic, and he has once again led the Dinos through a season that our campus and city is proud of. His passion for developing the very best student-athletes and outstanding young men is to be commended, and I know I speak on behalf of the Dinos, the University of Calgary, and our alumni in offering our congratulations on this honour.”

Individual Canada West football major award winners are as follows (*unanimous selection):
Hec Crighton Player of the Year nominee / Frank Gnup Memorial Trophy: Eric Dzwilewski, Calgary
Peter Gorman Rookie of the Year nominee: Brett Blaszko, Calgary
John Metras Outstanding Lineman nominee: *Brett Jones, Regina
President’s Award Outstanding Defensive Player nominee: *Mike Edem, Calgary
Russ Jackson Outstanding Student-Athlete nominee: Brett Jones, Regina
Frank Tindall Trophy nominee / Coach of the Year: Blake Nill, Calgary

All winners automatically become finalists for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) awards to be handed out Wednesday, Nov. 21st and Thursday, Nov. 22nd in Toronto as part of 48th Vanier Cup Week. The Vanier Cup game will be played on November 23rd at Rogers Centre, broadcast live on TSN.

On Friday, the Calgary Dinos host the Regina Rams in the 76th Hardy Cup game at McMahon Stadium, a game that can be seen live across Canada on TSN at 2:00 p.m. MST.

Photo Credit:  David Moll

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