The race for the CFL's most outstanding rookie award is going to be a doozy.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are promoting their stud defensive end, Gavin Walls, who yesterday won CFL lineman of the week honours for the fourth time this season and second week in a row.
To put that into perspective, not even Milt Stegall, the Bombers' sensational slotback, has won four player of the week awards in one season.
The other player voters will have to consider for top rookie is Edmonton Eskimos kick returner Tony Tompkins, who has won four special teams honours this year.
Walls, 25, had one sack and four tackles (including two for losses) on Sunday in Winnipeg's 35-32 home setback to the Toronto Argonauts. He had four sacks and three tackles last Monday against B.C.
"When a guy plays 70 plays a game at a position where you can be very under-noticed and continues to shine week in week out and sometimes spectacularly, like the four times he's been selected, that's quite a statement to do it every play," Bombers head coach Jim Daley said yesterday.
If you interpreted that as Daley saying Walls should win the award instead of someone who only returns kicks, you'd probably be right.
"A huge factor is being able to play on a regular basis," Daley said.
Tompkins, 22, can't be overlooked, considering he leads the league with three punt-return touchdowns and also has a kick-return major. Placekickers Sandro DeAngelis (Calgary) and Damon Duval (Montreal) are also likely candidates.
Walls, however, is performing tasks not even his own coaches thought he could do going into the season. They figured he was too small to play the end at 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds, but he hasn't even hit the proverbial "rookie wall" yet, and it doesn't look like he will.
He also has two touchdowns, which is quite the feat for a defensive end.
"He's just awesome, man," Bombers sophomore defensive end Tom Canada said earlier this week. "It just seems like every game he gets better and better.
"It's cool to watch. I'm happy as hell for him. I can't believe some of the plays he's making."
Walls leads the league with 12 sacks, although his takedown of Argos quarterback Damon Allen on Sunday was a gift; Allen took an intentional loss to set up Noel Prefontaine's game-winning field goal.
Canada, who was Winnipeg's top rookie last season, has a friendly bet with Walls this season about who will get will more sacks, but he has only seven and appears destined to lose.
Canada was bugged that Walls only had to tap Allen on the shoulder to record the sack on Sunday.
"You gotta be in the right spot at the right time," Canada said. "We looked at it on tape, and even if he didn't go down, I think he would've got him.
"He deserves everything he gets."
Two other Bombers were recognized yesterday in their respective categories. Running back Charles Roberts (24 carries for 176 yards and a touchdown) was the second runner-up on offence, while punter Jon Ryan (55-yard average) was the second runner-up on special teams.
Saskatchewan's Corey Holmes is the league's only other four-time winner this season, and they were all on special teams as well.