Most of the coverage of yesterday's release of the CFL's top award nominees is focusing on Calgary quarterback Henry Burris (and his anti-Eastern media stance) and Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo (and his quest for a third straight most outstanding player title). That's understandable, as both are quarterbacks on 12-5 teams, and both have had strong seasons statistically. They seem like the most likely most outstanding player finalist pairing (as one finalist is selected from each division), so leading media reports on the awards with them makes sense, even if it overlooks other interesting candidates like league rushing leader and Toronto running back Cory Boyd (who'd be my choice), the league's leader in passing yards (Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant), the league's receiving leader (Winnipeg receiver Terrence Edwards) or outstanding Edmonton receiver Fred Stamps.
However, the most interesting nominee for the CFL's top award is one who's almost certain not to win it. That would be B.C.'s Paul McCallum (seen above booting a field goal in last year's East semi-final against Hamilton), a 40-year-old kicker/punter who might be most famous for being run out of Saskatchewan with mislaid loads of manure shortly after missing a crucial field goal against B.C. in the 2004 West Final.
Oddly enough, as unconventional as it is for kickers to earn any consideration for a football league's top award, I think the Football Reporters of Canada and the CFL head coaches got the selection of McCallum as B.C.'s candidate absolutely right. The images we tend to associate with football include hard hits, perfect spirals and diving catches rather than field goals or punts, but kicking and punting are tremendously important parts of the game, and McCallum has been the best kicker in the league this year, hitting 42 of 47 field goals (an astounding 89.4 per cent success rate).
Those aren't chip shots, either; McCallum's average field goal length this year is 30.9 yards, and he's hit from as far as 50 yards out. He's made far more field goals than anyone else in the league this year (the next-closest kickers are Calgary's Rob Maver, with 33 FG on 43 attempts, and Montreal's Damon Duval, with 33 on 44), and he's second in kicking points to Maver (163 to 169) despite only having 31 point-after conversions to Maver's 67. The Lions' anemic offence has made McCallum's role even more important, as his 163 points represent 36.8 per cent of their total point tally of 443. That's more impressive when you consider that he missed one game thanks to injury and missed another one thanks to a lineup error. He's also been quite strong in the punting game, with a reasonable average of 41.6 yards and some excellent directional punts.
McCallum's had a tremendous career revitalization in B.C. and has been extremely consistent since joining the team in 2006. He notably went six-for-six on field goals in the Grey Cup that year and was a crucial part of the Lions' victory, being named the top Canadian in the process, but he's been just as good during the regular season. In a league where the kicking game's even more important than it is in American football (thanks to having one less down to work with), McCallum has been consistent and dependable. His regular-season field goal percentages since joining B.C. in 2006? 84.1, 81.4, 83.0, 88.2, 89.4.
For reference, only three current starting kickers other than McCallum (Edmonton's Derek Schiavone, Toronto's Noel Prefontaine, and Winnipeg's Justin Palardy) are better than 80 per cent on the year, and Schiavone's only recently taken over the starting job. The league's four remaining starters (Maver, Saskatchewan's Luca Congi, Hamilton's Sandro DeAngelis and Duval) are all hovering around 75 to 76 per cent, and it's worth noting that every one of those guys other than Duval doesn't have to punt as well. Consistently making over 80 per cent of your field goal attempts year after year is very impressive, and the rarefied air McCallum has entered this year is even more special. His 89.4 percentage at the moment is the third-best ever recorded in the CFL (behind only CFL legends Lui Passaglia with 90.9 and Dave Ridgway with 90.6), and his 78.1 career percentage (including this season) is the best in CFL history (barely edging out Ridgway's 78.0). His ability to handle both punting and kicking is also a boon to B.C., as is his Canadian passport; that gives them an extra roster spot and an extra import slot. If we're ever going to consider kickers for top awards, this season from McCallum would be an excellent time to do so.
McCallum's candidacy makes even more sense when you consider how few other distinguished candidates there are on the Lions. Yes, quarterback Travis Lulay has been solid if not spectacular, but he only took over midseason at the conclusion of The Casey Printers Experience. The Lions' receivers have been largely inconsistent, with only Geroy Simon breaking the 1,000-yard mark (1,155), and Jamal Robertson has been reasonably effective in the run game (926 yards on 145 carries), but hasn't really shone. There are a few decent candidates on defence, such as Solomon Elimimian (who leads the team with 75 tackles) or Brent Johnson (who has seven sacks), but it's tough to argue that either's been more important to the team's success than McCallum has this year. He's not all that likely to claim the league's most outstanding player award, but he's a deserving nominee from the Lions.