Labinjo makes statement of defence for Red & White

IAN BUSBY

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

Mike Labinjo had a quick glance at his competition for most outstanding Canadian in the West Division, and he noticed something right away.

"There are so many Canadian offensive talents out there," said the Calgary Stampeders defensive end. "It was neat to see that I was the only defensive player in the West.

"If I take the next step, it would be huge. Any time I can represent this team, it's big for me and my teammates."

The team nominees for player awards were released yesterday and Labinjo took the top Canadian award for the Stamps in just his second CFL season.

He will compete for the West title with B.C. Lions receiver Paris Jackson, Edmonton Eskimos slotback Kamau Peterson and Saskatchewan Roughriders offensive lineman Gene Makowsky.

Going by numbers, Labinjo is a long-shot. Both Peterson and Jackson are 1,000-yard receivers, while Makowsky opened holes for the second-best rusher in the CFL.

But Labinjo considers it an honour just to get recognized from his own team, especially since he was shuffled around between middle linebacker and defensive end early this season.

He also missed three games with an ankle injury in the second half.

"I look back to Day 1, and there was uncertainty about where I would be playing and how I would contribute to the team," said Labinjo, who has five sacks and 31 defensive tackles. "The coaches have pushed me since Day 1, saying I could be one of the top Canadians in this league, if not one of the top defensive players.

"This is good stepping stone for my career. Hopefully, I can continue to keep this up."

Although Shannon James is the Stamps' top defensive player for the second straight season, he is once again in tough to represent the West.

B.C. Lions sackmaster Cam Wake is considered a shoo-in for the CFL award and he is even being considered for most outstanding player.

But James is fine flying under the radar.

"I don't mind not being a big name," said James, who leads the team with 66 defensive tackles and four forced fumbles. "I will play ball and do what I have to do. I don't care about what people think of me.

"Maybe in a couple of years, then I will be a big name."

For the fourth straigtht year, Sandro DeAngelis is the Stamps nominee for top special teams player, but he's still as excited as the first time.

"It's a lot of fun to get recognized. It never gets old, I can tell you that," said the kicker, who won the league award in 2006. "I can't give enough credit to Randy Chevrier and Brett Ralph, my long-snapper and holder. Those guys put in a lot of work and it's a pretty thankless job."


Videos

Photos