With the Vanier Cup All-Canadian Gala set for Thursday night at the Vidéotron Centre in Quebec City, U SPORTS takes a closer look at each conference’s football major award winners and all-stars vying for national honours and All-Canadian recognition.
After bursting onto the scene as the conference’s top rookie a year ago, Waterloo Warriors QB Tre Ford (Niagara Falls, Ont.) has gone above and beyond in his sophomore season, capturing the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Most Valuable Player award to headline the conference’s 2018 major award winners.
Most Valuable Player – Tre Ford, Waterloo Warriors
What a year it was for the Waterloo Warriors quarterback, as Tre Ford put together one of the most complete seasons ever under centre. The second-year pivot was electric in all facets of the game to lead one of the conference’s most dynamic offensive units, showcasing his unique skill set each time he stepped onto the field.
A season that started with co-offensive player of the week honours in both the conference and country after going 25-for-28 with 463 passing yards, six TD passes, to go along with 58 yards and one touchdown on the ground, Ford put the league on notice early that he was ready to take the next step this season. And as his season debut demonstrated, his dual-threat capabilities were firing on all cylinders for the Waterloo squad this season.
Ford finished the year with 2,822 passing yards, 27 TD passes, and two interceptions; all leading marks in the OUA. It wasn’t just quantity; however, as he maintained high quality throughout his campaign as well. His 74.1% completion rate was the best all-time in the OUA, but while he could clearly throw it with the best of them, he could also do plenty of damage on the ground. The Niagara Falls, Ont. native collected 641 rushing yards on the year, ranking sixth in the conference, topping the impressive list of rushers with an average of 8.7 yards per carry.
Ford’s MVP season is the fifth in school history, joining the likes of Tom Chartier (1990), Jarrett Smith (1996, 1997), and Mike Bradley (1999). The performance from the reigning OUA and U SPORTS Rookie of the Year has demonstrated monumental strides forward, growth that has been seen largely thanks to his improved mental preparation and overall game awareness, and now with back-to-back award-winning seasons to his name, Ford will surely be one to watch as he continues to line up as pivot for the upstart Warriors.
Outstanding Stand-Up Defensive Player – Fraser Sopik, Western Mustangs
While Ford stood out on the offensive side this year, a member of the reigning champion Western Mustangs galloped into the defensive spotlight for the league-leading crew. Fraser Sopik (Toronto, Ont.) has long been a menace on the defensive side of the ball and continued his productive, dynamic presence on the gridiron this season en route to the OUA’s Stand-Up Defensive Player of the Year award.
In what has been a steady flow of talent on the defensive side of the ball in the purple ponies’ history, Sopik has stood out as one of the best all-time, especially at the linebacker position. His outstanding performance led a defence this season that was ranked first in all major defensive categories, thanks in large part to his skill at stopping the pass, the run, and rushing the passer.
For his efforts, Sopik has registered 38 tackles on the year, including 31 of the solo variety, leading his team in both categories. He also picked up one sack and 2.5 tackles for a loss, to go along with an interception to round out his season. These numbers are a result of his tremendous work ethic and relentless pursuit of the football; a mentality that has made him one of the most fearsome competitors across Ontario.
Lineman of the Year – Kene Onyeka, Carleton Ravens
Another of the best defensive squads resides in the nation’s capital, thanks in large part to their intimidating defensive line. And while the Carleton crew sees tremendous contributions from a number of their front seven, one in particular has helped the black birds soar into success, and he is now a two-time award winner for the Ravens.
Kene Onyeka (Brampton, Ont.) was the first Carleton player to be named Lineman of the Year in 2017 and now he can etch his name even further into the program’s history books.
Carleton led the league with 24 total sacks, with Onyeka at the heart of this stat line. Even after missing a pair of games in the middle of the season, the fifth-year defensive lineman still paced the talented group of pass rushers in Ontario for the second straight season. Thanks to three multi-sack efforts in his six games played, Onyeka tallied seven on the season, totaling a loss of 42 yards in the process.
The 2018 fourth-round draft pick of the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks reprised his leading role for the Ravens to buoy the black birds’ defensive corps to a bounce back season. And while he is quick to credit his fellow linebackers and teammates for his success, Onyeka’s unparalleled execution – which also included 24 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and a pass break-up – makes him a deserving two-time winner of the award.
Norm Marshall Award (Rookie of the Year) – Jack Hinsperger, Waterloo Warriors
For the second straight season, the conference’s top rookie wears black and gold, as Warriors’ LB Jack Hinsperger (Waterloo, Ont.) turned a sensational freshman campaign into the Rookie of the Year nod.
Hinsperger started at middle linebacker in all six games he dressed for this season, showcasing in each of those instances that he is a physical tackler with a high football IQ. Even as a first-year player, Hinsperger became an instant leader, en route to 27.5 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for a loss, and one fumble recovery. The OUA all-rookie had a knack for being around the ball this season, and while his presence was missed in the final two games of the season, Hinsperger made his on-field presence count when he lined up for the Waterloo squad.
Hinsperger becomes the third Warrior to win the award and will look to follow in the footsteps of his fellow award winners by earning the program’s third U SPORTS selection as the nation’s top rookie as well.
David “Tuffy” Knight Award (Coach of the Year) – Greg Marshall, Western Mustangs
Not much more can be said about the Western Mustangs than has already been said, as the team continues to be one of the most well-oiled machines across the university football scene, and while the talent is clear on the field, they also receive guidance from one of the best in the business on the sidelines – 2018 Coach of the Year Greg Marshall.
Mashall, who claimed his fifth Yates Cup win and first Vanier Cup as a head coach a year ago, once again led the Mustangs to leading numbers across the board this season. Top-ranked totals of 48 points per game compared to an average of just 11.1 surrendered make them one of the most well-rounded teams in the country, creating great difficulty in finding a weak spot. They led the league in rushing with a nearly 70-yard cushion, picking up 271.6 YPG, which contributed to their conference-leading 556.9 yards of total offence per contest.
Now in his 12th season at the helm of the purple ponies, Marshall has added another 8-0 season to his already impressive career mark, which now sits at 102-25. The Western alum, who found similar success during his Mustangs’ playing days with three consecutive Yates Cup championships and a Hec Crighton selection, picks up his sixth OUA Coach of the Year award – fourth with Western – and the 12th in program history.
Russ Jackson Nominee – Mackenzie Ferguson, Western Mustangs
One of the many outstanding players that Marshall gets to coach is Mackenzie Ferguson (London, Ont.), who makes his mark in many different ways as a member of the Mustangs, clearly exemplifying the attributes of academic achievement, football skill, and citizenship as the OUA’s nominee for the Russ Jackson Award.
Currently completing his Masters of Science in Clinical Anatomy, Ferguson spends much of his time off the field in the realms of research, lab work, course work, and teaching, currently serving as a Teaching Assistant in Western’s Physiotherapy program. His research, meanwhile, involves working with doctors and professions to develop a new curriculum for first year medical students being implemented next year. The Bachelor of Science graduate earned a 90% average throughout his four-year undergrad program, earning several Academic All-Canadian nods along the way.
His accolades don’t stop in the academic realm; however, as he has seen his well-rounded contributions on the field, in the classroom, and in the community recognized by the Mustangs as the recipient of the 2017 Darwin Semotiuk Award, the Bronze W Award, and even a Most Improved Player Award that epitomized the impeccable work ethic he displayed for the purple and white.
From a volunteer perspective, Ferguson has translated his leadership role on campus into several meaningful opportunities to give back. Among the initiatives that the fourth-year student-athlete has gotten involved with are: ManMade, a program that allows men to talk openly about sexual violence and consent and how to prevent sexual violence from occurring; the Western Football Mentorship Program, which focuses on veteran players mentoring younger athletes on the team with academic, athletic, or other personal guidance; McDonald’s McHappy Day, an annual event that helps collect donations for various children’s charities; Special Olympics Ontario, wherein the team participates in a volunteer soccer game with members of the organization; and many more worthy causes.
Whether it is making a difference on the field with his work ethic, excelling academically as he pursues his passion, or contributing to the community, Ferguson has demonstrated time and time again why he deserves to be the second consecutive (and second overall) Mustang to be nominated for the U SPORTS Russ Jackson Award.
Volunteer Coach of the Year – Mike White, Ottawa Gee-Gees
Another individual who has left his mark on many talented players is the 2018 Volunteer Coach of the Year. An integral part of the Ottawa coaching crew, Mike White has served as the Secondary Coach for the Gee-Gees for the last two years, after previously working with many other programs across U SPORTS and in the CFL. The Waterloo alum, and former MVP, has been a noticeable presence since transitioning to the sidelines and while his journey has included work with some of the best in the industry, he has certainly made a name for himself as well.
White’s impact in the role has been beneficial to say the least, impacting the defence in more ways than one. Among the improvements he has helped to achieve for the Garnet and Grey is their ability to force turnovers, which has led the team to the top of the OUA’s interception ranks in each of the last two years. He has been an influence for standouts like Jackson Bennett, a draft pick of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats this past May; Jamie Harry, who added another OUA all-star selection to his impressive resume after leading the league in interceptions; and Luke Griese, who has shone under White’s tutelage as a first-time starter and all-star selection.
But beyond his impact on the stats, he has also demonstrated his love and knowledge of the game. While he expects a lot from his group and is a stickler for details, the results are noticeable once they hit the field. White works individually with his players, spends countless hours studying film, and breaking down opponents, much to the benefit of the Gee-Gees football program. The financial planner and vice-president of Echelon Wealth Partners is a volunteer in every sense of the word, donating any compensation back to the football program, and it is this dedication to the Gee-Gees, the players, and the football community that has helped White truly stand out among his peers.
Ken Green Officials Award of Merit – Kevin Baird
Earning the final award of the 2018 season is an individual who has also seen his fair share of football over the years. Kevin Baird, this year’s recipient of the Ken Green Officials Award of Merit, has been officiating football as a member of the Lakeshore Football Officials Association since 2003 and has been a key part of the OUA football officials’ panel since 2010. His rule knowledge, no-nonsense approach, and overall feel for the game has allowed Baird to acquire the respect of his peers, players, and coaches throughout the OUA since that time.
Throughout his career, Baird has been involved in several Yates Cup championships, as well as national bowl games, which is a testament to how he continuously works at his craft. This year’s recognized official, who has now twice added his name to the winners list after also receiving the honour in 2016, has been a mainstay at various levels of football and continues to provide the OUA with a high level of officiating each time he steps on to the field.
2018 Football Major Award Winners:
Most Valuable Player
- Tre Ford, Waterloo
Outstanding Stand-Up Defensive Player
- Fraser Sopik, Western
Lineman of the Year
- Kene Onyeka, Carleton
Norm Marshall Trophy (Rookie of the Year)
- Jack Hinsperger, Waterloo
David “Tuffy” Knight Award (Coach of the Year)
- Greg Marshall, Western
Russ Jackson Award Nominee
- Mackenzie Ferguson, Western
Volunteer Coach of the Year
- Mike White, Ottawa
Ken Green OUA Football Officials Award of Merit
- Kevin Baird