Mustangs, Golden Hawks pace conference pack with 10 honourees apiece among OUA all-stars

Photo by Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks
Photo by Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks

Burlington, Ont. – Outstanding offensive threats, dynamic defensive powerhouses, and shining special teams performers made for an impactful season on the gridiron. These all-around efforts have sparked award-worthy campaigns for 56 individuals, including a league-best 10 honourees from both the Western Mustangs and Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, who have been named as 2019 OUA first and second team all-stars.

After taking home second-team honours a year ago, Chris Merchant (Calgary, Alta.) makes the leap to first-teamer after leading his Mustangs to another undefeated regular season. The purple and white have been privy to one of the most consistent and capable players under centre throughout Merchant's career, but he may very well have saved his best for last in his final campaign with the two-time defending champions. Adding a much more prominent run game to his arsenal this season, Merchant became the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback, racking up 2,378 yards and 14 TDs in the passing game, as well as another 438 yards and six majors on the ground. Despite losing multiple key pieces from a season ago, including both lead backs and an all-star receiver, Merchant kept Western galloping forward with the conference's high-scoring offence (36.3 PPG).

While Merchant was a menace for the opposition, part of his success comes from those who play the role of protector, and when it comes to the Western offensive line, they are among the very best. Four members of the Western crew up front have joined Merchant on this year's first team, with Elliot Beamer (Bowen Island, B.C.), Zack Fry (London, Ont.), Spencer Hood (Ilderton, Ont.), and Dylan Giffen (Strathroy, Ont.) all earning all-star recognition. The latter even found himself among the top-20 in the CFL's first scouting bureau ranks of the season, coming in at No. 16 to open up the year.

Rounding out the Mustangs' offensive honours are two individuals who took on bigger roles this season after seeing past Western greats graduate in the offseason. First-teamer Brett Ellerman (Calgary, Alta.) jumped into the No. 1 pass-catcher role this season and lived up to the billing with 39 receptions, 621 yards, and five touchdowns. In the ground game, Trey Humes (Ajax, Ont.) took the reins from a pair of decorated seniors and the team didn't skip a beat thanks to his 705 yards and three majors as the feature back.

Staking not one, but two spots on the first team is one of the league's most consistent and clutch kickers, Marc Liegghio. The Woodbridge, Ont. native ensured that Western's kicking game has been in good hands for the last few seasons, but his productive senior campaign may go down as a little more special. Backed by his 22 field goals made at a 92% clip, the all-star kicker and punter became not only the OUA's all-time leader in points scored, but also the U SPORTS record-holder in career field goals made with 92.

The final member of Western's first team contingent, Bleska Kambamba (London, Ont.), checks in as the London squad's lone defender to earn the honour. The cornerback was the only Mustang to register multiple interceptions on the season, adding in a sack, forced and recovered fumble, and 31 total tackles to his pair of picks.

Lining up against these 10 Western all-stars in the 112th Yates Cup will be the McMaster Marauders, and the Hamilton squad will see six honourees of their own take the field in the championship game. Chief among them is Noah Hallett (London, Ont.), McMaster's lone first-team representative, who was as disruptive a force on defence as anyone in the conference. Hallett's most significant contributions came when the ball went airborne, as the ball-hawk broke up six passes on the season. Four of those resulted in interceptions, tying him for second on the year in that regard. For good measure, Hallett would also add 29.5 tackles and a solitary, albeit immensely explosive sack.

Fellow defenders Nolan Putt (Caledonia, Ont.) and Eric Blake (Hamilton, Ont.) have staked claim to second-team spots. Each pulled in an interception on the year, but their most telling trait was their talented tackling. Ranking second and fourth, respectively, on the maroon machine in takedowns, the pair combined for 77 tackles on the year, with Blake contributing 6.5 of those for a combined loss of 34 yards.

While those three Marauders made their mark preventing the pass, another McMaster standout earned his second-team selection by reeling them in. With a flair for the acrobatics and an uncanny ability to haul in the contested throw, Tommy Nield (Guelph, Ont.) continued to be a security blanket for the team's offence. He would go on to register 38 receptions for 498 yards, leading the team in both, as well as three touchdowns in his third season in the hammer.

Two members of the McMaster offensive line cap off the team's contingent, with Max Guy (Lynden, Ont.) and Jakub Szott (Toronto, Ont.) securing the final honours for the roles they played in protecting Mac's second-ranked passing performance (303.9 YPG), as well as the team's nearly 130 yards on the ground.

Anchoring the running game on the first team roster are the league's two leading rushers, including Wilfrid Laurier's Levondre Gordon (Mississauga, Ont.), who is one of the team's 10 all-star selections to tie for the league lead. After injuries hit the team's receiving corps, the ground game became a much bigger focal point, and the now two-time all-star was up to the task. Gordon turned in a career-year in his final season in purple and gold, finishing atop the OUA and second in the country with 127 yards per game, including a season-high 188-yard effort in Week 5, while also finding the end zone four times for Laurier. The fifth-year senior also became the sixth player in program history to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau on the year, marking the first time he has done so during his stint with the school.

Despite the injuries, one Hawks receiver who managed to keep soaring was Brentyn Hall (Toronto, Ont.). The fourth-year receiver started his 631-yard campaign off on the right foot with a 132-yard performance in the team's opener against Western and turned in another eye-popping effort in the latter part of the season in the Battle of Waterloo. Hall registered 165 yards and two majors against Laurier's crosstown rivals, helping elevate his final season marks to 90.1 yards per game (3rd in OUA) and six touchdowns. All told, Hall's fourth straight season of 500+ receiving yards have him now ranked third all-time among Laurier receivers with 2,283 career yards.

Helping players like Hall, Gordon, and more thrive for Laurier, meanwhile, were a pair of all-star linemen, as JD Richardson (Burlington, Ont.) and Drew Mairleitner (Denfield, Ont.) pick up second team nods for their work up front.

While the offence performed well this season for the Hawks, Laurier's long-standing calling card has been their defence, which held true once again this season. And with several key pieces gone from recent rosters, many had a chance to step up or take on even grander roles this season, which they did to rave reviews.  

Two of the team's more intimidating figures each have their number called during awards season, as Sam Acheampong (Brampton, Ont.) and Trevaughan James (Whitby, Ont.) earn first and second-team nods, respectively. The former ranked seventh in sacks on the year (5.5) along with 8.5 tackles for loss (T-5th in OUA), while the latter also made himself at home in opponents' backfields with 6.5 of his 21 tackles on the year also coming for a loss. Another pair of central contributors helped their Hawks soar with a bevy of impactful plays. Tommy Bringi (London, Ont.) led the way with a team-high 41.5 tackles on the year and not far behind was second-teamer Malcolm Thompson (Windsor, Ont.), who ranked fourth. The two also combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, a pair of sacks, as well as a forced fumble from the former and an interception from the latter. Ayo Ajayi (Brampton, Ont.) joins the award-winning defence corps to round out the vaunted all-star presence.

The final member of Laurier's all-stars is someone who has long understood the pressures of the spotlight, as Nathan Mesher (Waterloo, Ont.) picks up second-team kicking honours after connecting on 86% of his field goals, including a long of 46 to highlight his 18 makes on the year, while also securing a career-high of 83 points. The decorated kicker finishes his career as the school's all-time leader in both points (365) and field goals (73).

Like their neighbours down the road, the Waterloo Warriors are also represented by standouts on both the ground and through the air, as the league's second-ranked rusher Dion Pellerin (Abbotsford, B.C.) and perennial aerial weapon Tyler Ternowski (Hamilton, Ont.) are tabbed as first-team all-stars after successful campaigns with the black and gold.

The passing game got much of the attention a year ago, and rightfully so given Ternowski's nation-leading marks in yards and new OUA single-season touchdown record, but the team caused a raucous in the run game in 2019 to add a new layer to their elite point-producing capabilities. Anchoring this added wrinkle was Pellerin, who averaged over 120 yards per game on the year. The two-time OUA offensive player of the week also paced the pack with 11 majors, thanks in large part to a trio of multi-touchdown games in the final four weeks of play.

Even with the emergence of Pellerin, the Waterloo receivers were still headline-worthy. Ternowski continued his torrent pace as one of the country's elite pass catchers, reeling in another 47 passes on the season, good for 695 yards and five touchdowns, while also becoming the Waterloo Warriors' all-time leader in reception yards. Alongside Ternowski, the potent play of Gordon Lam (Kitchener, Ont.) also warranted all-star recognition, as Lam matched his teammate's five touchdown total, while also eclipsing the 80-yard per game average for the conference's second-ranked offence.

And while there are weapons up and down the Waterloo offence, the straw that stirs the drink continues to be the OUA's reigning MVP. Tre Ford (Niagara Falls, Ont.) was his usual, elusive self under centre for Waterloo, showcasing his dual-threat ability every chance he got. In the air, Ford made good on over 70% of his passes for 2,158 yards and 13 touchdowns, and while he ranked strongly in those categories among his quarterback peers, he also ranked fifth among the conference's rushers with 79.3 yards per game. One of the key contributors in front of Ford, meanwhile, is tackle Spencer Andrews (Waterloo, Ont.), who played his way to a second-team selection.

Tre isn't the only member of the Ford family to earn all-star honours, as twin brother Tyrell Ford (Niagara Falls, Ont.) turned his four interceptions, including one for a pick-six, into a first-team selection at the cornerback position. Finishing off the team's eight all-stars, meanwhile, is a pair of special teams standouts. Kurtis Gray (Waterloo, Ont.) gets the nod in the rush cover position, while newcomer Jonah Zlatinszky's (London, Ont.) punting prowess secures his spot.

Like the Warriors, another team that showed off their big-play capabilities was the Toronto Varsity Blues, who managed to do so on the backs of the league's top-two receivers. On the first team, Will Corby (Burlington, Ont.) burst out of the gates with a 179-yard performance in Week 2 – Toronto's first win since 2017 – and continued to lead the conference in yardage the rest of the way with an average of 99.6 for the year to go along with an OUA-best eight touchdown grabs. One of Corby's running mates in the passing game, who also has an affinity for catching the long ball, finished right alongside his Varsity Blues teammate in both categories. Nolan Lovegrove (Aurora, Ont.) tallied 95.3 yards per game and eight majors to earn a spot on the second-team as a result.

Rounding out Toronto triumvirate is first-teamer Malcolm Campbell (Mississauga, Ont.), who paced the conference in quarterback takedowns for his Varsity Blues. An 8.5-sack season secured a spot for the fourth-year defensive end on the OUA first team, but he stuffed the stat sheet beyond that thanks to 43.5 tackles, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries, causing consistent headaches for offensive coordinators and players alike.  

Campbell isn't the only quarterback confronter to make his way into the all-star conversation, as a loaded list of dynamic defenders joins him as honourees, including four from the province's most proficient in the category. When talking about defence, the Guelph Gryphons can't be ignored, as their point-preventing crew was among the elite this season, with a quartet of second-teamers leading the charge.

Alain Cimankinda (Ottawa, Ont.), Tavius Robinson (Guelph, Ont.), Job Reinhart (Guelph, Ont.), and Dotun Aketepe (Barrie, Ont.) have all earned a spot on the second team thanks to their relentless pressure on the ball, adept ability to get to the quarterback, and overall impact on the game. As a unit, the Gryphons led the OUA with 32 sacks on the season; 22.5 of them coming from the aforementioned group. Cimankinda led the way with 7.5 of his own (T-2nd in OUA), while the 6'8" Robinson chipped in with six.

As electrifying as the Guelph defence was, their special teams provided plenty of fireworks of their own, with many of the must-see moments coming from return-man Clark Barnes (Brampton, Ont.). Barnes got the entire OUA season started off with a bang, hauling in the year's first kickoff and taking it back 100 yards. He would repeat the feat the following week with a 106-yard run back for the score and completed the trifecta with his third return TD in three games. Barnes would finish the year with 486 return yards.

The final member of Guelph's six-member all-star collection does his work on the team's offensive line, which is no easy task with a mobile quarterback like the Gryphons' possess. Even when tasked with protecting the pivot and creating opportunities for his teammates, guard Coulter Woodmansey (Toronto, Ont.) was one of the best, earning him first-team honours.   

Like Barnes on the first-team, another speedster lit up the return game as a second team recipient, with Ottawa's Kalem Beaver (Dartmouth, N.S.) collecting the 2019 honours. Beaver, who was beaming with joy after capping off his Panda Game with a proposal, also had plenty of shining moments on the field with his 249 kick return yards and 455 punt return yards, including one run back for a touchdown. Fellow special teams standout Rashad Spooner (Brossard, Que.) represents the Garnet and Grey as the first team rush cover.

Another aspect of the game in which the Gee-Gees shone was on defence, as evidenced by their four all-star recipients therein. Réshaan Davis (Oshawa, Ont.) was among the leaders in sacks, tallying seven on the season, as well as tackles for loss with 11.5. Cody Cranston (Winnipeg, Man.) and his team-high three interceptions also make the first team roster; an all-star campaign that he rounded out with a fumble recovery and 18.5 tackles. Fellow defensive back Luke Griese (Newmarket, Ont.) gets his second-straight all-star nod for the Gee-Gees, while Kyle Rodger (Gatineau, Que.), the team's second-leading tackler (42.0), finishes off the Ottawa recipients.

Like Ottawa, Queen's also garnered elite execution on the defensive side of the ball, and after seeing several key faces turn the page on their university careers this offseason, the daunting presence of their 2019 all-stars was a welcomed sight for the Tricolour.

First-team representative Cam Lawson (Caledon, Ont.) scored 3.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery for the Gaels this season, but more than just his statistical numbers, his mere presence created the need for extra attention and opened up enticing opportunities for his fellow Queen's linemen to thrive. One individual to take full advantage of these benefits was Anthony Federico (Niagara Falls, Ont.), who put forth a titanic effort of his own for the Kingston squad this season. The second-year defensive end finished tied for second in sacks with 7.5 on the year, with the second-team representative also ranking first in TFLs with 14. The pair were instrumental in helping Queen's finish second in the OUA with 30 sacks.

The third and final member of the Gaels group of all-stars is also the final member of the century club among this year's running backs. Rasheed Tucker ranked third in the OUA with his 104.7 yards per contest, joining the two first-team backs as the only three to eclipse the 100-yard plateau for the year. A shining moment for the Toronto, Ont. native came when he earned offensive player of the week honours in Week 5 behind a 210-yard, two-touchdown performance against Toronto.

Joining Tucker as an offensive cog on the second team is Carleton receiver Phil Iloki (Montreal, Que.). The senior pass-catcher was among the league's elite with his seventh-ranked mark of 80.5 yards per game. Iloki's efforts went for an average of 14.6 yards per catch and he turned three of those grabs into touchdowns for the Ravens this season, providing a consistently reliable option for the team's first-time starter under centre.

In addition to the team's leading receiver, the Ravens see their top two tacklers tabbed as first team all-stars as well. Jack Cassar (Mississauga, Ont.) maintained his status as one of the most intimidating individuals on defence, racking up 44 tackles, including seven for a loss, as well as four sacks and five pass breakups. Cassar started his season with a bang, totaling 10.5 tackles in the black birds' opener to earn defensive player of the week honours, but his teammate, Trevor Hoyte (Gatineau, Que.), managed the feat in the tail end of the season. Hoyte's eight-tackle effort anchored his Week 8 honour, but his season marks of 35.5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery have him placed firmly alongside his Carleton teammate as a first-team all-star.

Jacob Janke (Edmonton, Alta.) checks in as York's lone all-star representative, but did so in fine form for the Lions. The fourth-year safety stuffed the stat sheet this year with three interceptions (including one for a touchdown), 34 total tackles, one sack, four tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and three pass breakups. He was also selected in the fourth round (35th overall) by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 2019 CFL Entry Draft.

The complete list of 2019 OUA first and second team all-stars is:

2019 First Team All-Stars

Offence

QB – Chris Merchant, Western

RB – Levondre Gordon, Laurier

RB – Dion Pellerin, Waterloo

REC – Tyler Ternowski, Waterloo

REC – Brett Ellerman, Western

REC – Will Corby, Toronto

REC – Phil Iloki, Carleton

C – Elliot Beamer, Western

T – Zack Fry, Western

T – Dylan Giffen, Western

G – Coulter Woodmansey, Guelph

G – Spencer Hood, Western

Defence

DT – Cameron Lawson, Queen's

DT – Sam Acheampong, Laurier

DE – Réshaan Davis, Ottawa

DE – Malcolm Campbell, Toronto

LB – Jack Cassar, Carleton

LB – Tommy Bringi, Laurier

SAM – Trevor Hoyte, Carleton

FS – Jacob Janke, York

HB – Noah Hallett, McMaster

HB – Cody Cranston, Ottawa

CB – Bleska Kambamba, Western

CB – Tyrell Ford, Waterloo

Special Teams

P – Marc Liegghio, Western

K – Marc Liegghio, Western

RET – Clark Barnes, Guelph

RUSH – Rashad Spooner, Ottawa

2019 Second Team All-Stars

Offence

QB – Tre Ford, Waterloo

RB – Trey Humes, Western

RB – Rasheed Tucker, Queen's

REC – Nolan Lovegrove, Toronto

REC – Tommy Nield, McMaster

REC – Brentyn Hall, Laurier

REC – Gordon Lam, Waterloo

C – JD Richardson, Laurier

T – Spencer Andrews, Waterloo

T – Max Guy, McMaster

G – Jakub Szott, McMaster

G – Drew Mairleitner, Laurier

Defence

DT – Alain Cimankinda, Guelph

DT – Trevaughan James, Laurier

DE – Tavius Robinson, Guelph

DE – Anthony Federico, Queen's

LB – Job Reinhart, Guelph

LB – Kyle Rodger, Ottawa

SAM – Eric Blake, McMaster

FS – Luke Griese, Ottawa

HB – Dotun Aketepe, Guelph

HB – Malcolm Thompson, Laurier

CB – Nolan Putt, McMaster

CB – Ayo Ajayi, Laurier

Special Teams

P – Jonah Zlatinszky, Waterloo

K – Nathan Mesher, Laurier

RET – Kalem Beaver, Ottawa

RUSH – Kurtis Gray, Waterloo

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