In the moments after his win as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie, James Wilder Jr. told the perfect Marc Trestman story.
Wilder says he arrived at Toronto Argonaut’s training camp “out of it mentally” as he was forced to compete for a roster spot with a bevy of other running backs. He started the season on special teams, chasing down punt returners but getting precious few opportunities on offence.
“There were some times where I was, man, what am I doing wrong? He was like ‘trust the process, trust the process,'” Wilder said accepting the honour at league’s awards gala in Ottawa Wednesday night. “Every week, I was like’ coach I’m sorry to visit you again or call you late at night… ‘trust the process, James.’
“I trusted his word.”
The 61-year-old Trestman won the award as the league’s top coach for the second time in his career, leading the Argos to a 9-9 mark and an East Division title in his first season after a four-year hiatus from the CFL.
The ultra-prepared Trestman named every assistant coach in his acceptance speech.
“I didn’t do a great job of explaining it because it’s way past my bedtime but this is the time you realize that you could have never done it alone,” he said afterward. “You see it a lot when people win awards and what happens is, it just crystalizes: it’s not about you, it took so many people, so many moments in your life. I hope I communicated that.”
Toronto quarterback Ricky Ray fell short in his third bid to win the league’s Most Outstanding Player award as Edmonton pivot Mike Reilly took home the honour for the first time in his career. Centre Sean McEwen, nominated in the Most Outstanding Lineman category, lost out to Winnipeg Blue Bomber Stanley Bryant.
The hardware was handed out at a swanky event as part of the Grey Cup festivities taking place in Ottawa this week. The honourees were selected by members of the Football Reporters of Canada as well as the league’s head coaches.
Other winners included Calgary linebacker Alex Singleton as Most Outstanding Defensive player, Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris as top Canadian, and diminutive Stampeder return man Roy Finch as Most Outstanding Special Teams player. Montreal offensive lineman Luc Brodeur-Jourdain took home the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ award while Edmonton receiver Adarius Bowman was the Tom Pate honouree for community involvement.
Wilder Jr. ran away with the rookie award, taking all but five votes in the race over Calgary’s Marken Michel, recording 872 yards rushing and 533 receiving while scoring a total of five touchdowns in only 10 starts. He also brought his entire offensive line up on stage with them as he accepted the award – after already taking them out for dinner after season-finale.
“They don’t get enough recognition and I felt that was something that was needed,” Wilder Jr. said. “I took them to all-you-can eat. Those are some big guys.”
Overall, the Argonauts and Stampeders, who will face off in Sunday’s Grey Cup, took home four of the seven top awards on Thursday, winning two apiece. Wilder said it’s the large silver piece of hardware that’s been his motivation since day one – especially considering he wasn’t aware the CFL honoured its top rookie when he arrived in late May.
“I didn’t know [the award] existed,” Wilder said. “I’m always a team first guy – I knew about the Grey Cup. I tried to put the team goals first and these come with it.”
Wilder’s father, former NFL running back James Wilder Sr., didn’t make it to the awards show but will watch his son play in person for the first time on more than two years in Sunday’s championship game.
Wilder Jr. says the family has always pushed each other and his older brother Curtis wasn’t about to let the honour go to his head.
“He was like ‘you’re a 25-year-old rookie, what kind of rookie is that? You don’t get props for that,” Wilder Jr. said, imitating his brother’s voice for comedic effect. “‘Get a Grey Cup, then talk.'”