It was the first most outstanding player nominations of their careers for three Canadians on the Edmonton Eskimos.
Announced Wednesday, running back Calvin McCarty was nominated for most outstanding player, long snapper Tim St. Pierre for the most outstanding special-teams player and centre Aaron Fiacconi for the most outstanding offensive lineman.
“The O-line took a lot of heat this year, so for Fee (Fiacconi) to kind of take that on his shoulders and get guys going, that’s big,” said McCarty, who turned 26 on Tuesday.
After the first half of the season, it didn’t look like the Eskimos would even be able to nominate a most outstanding offensive lineman.
The group was grilled in the media and on fan sites along the way to a 2-9 start, losing their unit coach and two starters.
“It was really tough,” Fiacconi said. “Obviously last year, I thought we had probably one of the best groups in the league. We had continuity coming into training camp this year and I thought it was going to be no different.
“We didn’t rise to the occasion in the first half of the season. We struggled mightily.”
A nine-year player from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Fiacconi received his first team award after starting 16 games in 2010.
“It’s quite an honour, but it’s a team honour. It could have gone to both the guys beside me,” Fiacconi said of left guard Kyle Koch and right guard Patrick Kabongo. “I’ve played with them for the last two years and they’ve made me a better football player.”
The Eskimos current CFL player representative, Fiacconi earned the job of centering the O-line in training camp last year.
“Coach (Tim) Prinsen and coach (Jeff) Bleamer who was here prior to that, they gave me an opportunity here and I’ve done the best of my ability,” Fiacconi said. “Hopefully we can continue winning games here into playoffs.
“It’s one of those things that you can never anticipate and it’s a pleasure and an honour because I know some of the guys who have been bestowed it prior to myself — some damn-good football players. I’ve found a home in Edmonton and love being an Eskimo.”
The O-linemen weren’t the only ones facing adversity this season.
“I wasn’t expecting anything, I kind of started off slow myself,” said McCarty. “The hard work is starting to pay off for everybody.”
In his fourth year as the team’s go-to utility player, McCarty has been at tailback, running back, fullback, tight end, slotback, wide receiver — every offensive position but quarterback — as well as on special teams this year.
“To be in the mix and have the opportunity to take advantage of it to get this award, it feels good,” said McCarty, who is tied for first on the team with five touchdowns, is tied for second with nine special-teams tackles, is third with 278 rushing yards and fourth with 270 receiving yards.
St. Pierre received his first team award in three years in the league. The linebacker, from Hamilton, Ont., leads the Eskimos with 13 special-teams tackles while assuming the team’s long-snapping duties this season.
“Tim St. Pierre long snaps and he covers,” said head coach Richie Hall. “For someone other than a returner to get it, I think that’s an accomplishment in itself.”