TORONTO - As he recovered two years ago from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Chad Owens contemplated whether his future included football.
"I was on that side where I was not playing football, I was out of the game," the Argonauts' star on special teams said. "You don't know how good you have it until you lose it. I didn't know what to do with my life, and that's why I play the game the way I do."
A day after his peers in the Canadian Football League chose him in a TSN poll as the biggest threat to score from anywhere on the field, Owens on Wednesday was voted as the Argos nominee for the CFL's most outstanding special teams player award.
Owens has won a weekly award six times and last week became the fifth player in league history to amass 1,000 yards in both punt returns and kickoff returns. With a league-high 2,701 combined yards, Owens is a shoo-in to be named the league's most outstanding special-teams player when the awards are announced during Grey Cup week in Edmonton.
Nothing remotely close seemed possible when Owens tore up his knee while playing for the Colorado Crush in the Arena Football League in 2008. But the 28-year-old, who was a sixth-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005, was determined to play again.
The Montreal Alouettes don't make many personnel mistakes, but in hindsight, they goofed up badly when they traded Owens, who appeared in one game for them last year, to the Argos in June.
"If I said I knew he was going to be (the favourite for) special-teams player of year, I would be lying," Argos head coach Jim Barker said. "He has turned out to be, well, you just never know until you coach a guy.
"He has the respect of everyone in this league — they know he makes us a different team."
At the other end of the football spectrum from Owens, at least in terms of attention, is defensive end Ronald Flemons, who is the Argos nominee for most outstanding defensive player.
Parts of Flemons' year have been memorable — his daughter Jayla was born unexpectedly in Calgary when the Argos were there for the season opener, and there are more than 2 million hits on YouTube of the videos that show Flemons fumbling the football on the goal line versus B.C. — but through everything, he has been consistently sharp.
But Barker doesn't think the unassuming Flemons will win the award as top defensive player.
"It's sad that he won't get votes," Barker said of the person he considers the Argos' unsung hero. "He does not say two words, so people don't notice him. But if people put film on and watch, I would dare anybody to show me a better football player."
Flemons indeed was humbled by the defensive nomination.
"The YouTube thing, it happened, and it was not good," Flemons said. "This is a nice individual award and I love it, but it's about winning the Grey Cup."