One fab freshman

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:59 AM ET

Nik Lewis picked up the CFL rookie-of-the-year award last night while thanking the Stampeders organization for a chance to prove himself.

The Stamps, all things being equal, should have been crowding the stage expressing their gratitude for the receiver's sensational pro debut.

Lewis' 1,045 yards receiving, the fourth-best performance by a Stampeders rookie ball-catcher behind only Terry Evanshen, Terry Vaughn and Marc Boerigter, offered one of few glimmering reasons for optimism in a dismal 4-14 year.

"I just hope this was my worst season," Lewis mused last night, looking forward to hooking up in 2005 with new Stamps pivot Khari Jones.

"I'm looking forward to playing with Khari next season and if my numbers don't go up, someone else's will."

Lewis' year was remarkable under any circumstances yet particularly outstanding in light of the quarterbacking carousel during which four different Stamps starters were charged with delivering the ball.

Ditching offensive co-ordinator John Jenkins after just six games didn't help while the Stampeders offence continued floundering through most of the CFL campaign.

Through it all was the consistency and durability of Lewis.

The Southern Arkansas product -- uncovered by Jenkins in one of several U.S. tryouts last winter -- also led the Stampeders in punt return yards with 385 on only 31 returns, leaving him second on the team with 1,496 all-purpose yards.

Lewis led the Stampeders in receptions yards, catches (72) and touchdowns (eight).

Lewis is just the third Stampeder to claim the league's top rookie honours, with running back Kelvin Anderson (1996) and defensive tackle Harold Hallman (1986) also turning heads in their inaugural seasons.

Anderson went on to become the Stamps' all-time leading rusher with 8,292 yards in seven seasons.

Who knows if Lewis can achieve similar greatness but time is certainly on his side. At just 22, the youngest Stampeder this season startled opponents not only with his sure hands but also an innate ability to fight for yards after the catch.

It's a trait that left many comparing him to Vaughn, the diminutive and tough-to-tackle Eskimos slotback who left the Stampeders for Edmonton after the 1998 season.

Despite lacking blazing speed, Lewis could draw looks from NFL clubs this off-season as he enters his option year. A CFL rookie-of-the-year trophy attracts attention and who could blame Lewis for jumping at a shot to show off south of the border?

For the struggling Stampeders, losing Lewis would be devastating while his return next season would be reason for fans to celebrate.


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