Walls caps season

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

Gavin Walls was having a steady rookie season for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

In fact, the feeling was the defensive end out of Ripley, Miss., had a great chance to be named the team's rookie of the year.

Then he played in Ottawa on a rainy night in September, and everything changed.

All of a sudden, the talk of him being named the CFL's rookie of the year began.

By the time last night's league awards gala arrived, Walls was a slam dunk to win the award over Montreal's Matthieu Proulx. It was made official last night in Vancouver, and Walls strode onto the stage a winner.

Walls, 25, is just the fifth Bomber to win the award. He's the first since Albert Johnson III captured the honour in 2000.

"This award is a great honour," said Walls on stage as he picked up his award last night in Vancouver.

"I'd like to thank my mom for coming to Canada with her husband and I'd like to thank the coaching staff, (Bomber president/CEO Lyle) Bauer, (general manager) Brendan Taman and especially the fans. You know we didn't have that good a record and (the fans) kept coming."

He's not the biggest defensive end at 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, but Walls has deceptive strength and obvious quickness that has turned him into a CFL force.

Walls, who spent 2004 in NFL Europe with the Scottish Claymores, got better with each passing week this season, but he really exploded onto the scene Sept. 16 in Winnipeg's 37-21 over the Ottawa Renegades at Frank Clair Stadium.

Walls intercepted Renegades QB Kerry Joseph and rumbled 10 yards for a touchdown, and then he added a 79-yard fumble return for a score in the fourth quarter.

While he didn't have a sack in that Ottawa game, he went on to record six quarterback drops in his next three games, including four in a home win over the B.C. Lions on Oct. 10.

He also had two tackles for a loss in a 35-32 loss to Toronto on Oct. 16.

Walls got hurt in Winnipeg's second-last game, so he didn't play in the regular-season finale. By that time, however, he had done more than enough to earn the league-wide rookie honour.

He finished tied for second in the CFL with 12 sacks. He added 40 tackles, four pass knockdowns, 55 hits and five tackles for a loss. He was named one of the two West Division all-stars at defensive end, and he was the CFL's lineman of the week a whopping four times.

Jim Daley might not have been right about a lot of things this year, but the fired Bomber head coach hit the nail on the head with his assessment of Walls on July 19.

EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS

"Gavin Walls is one of the most outstanding young players I've ever come across," Daley told the Sun. "We knew he was good coming in, but he has far exceeded our expectations. He wants to be a great player. So much of this game is played between the ears.

"Gavin Walls is as determined a person as I've ever seen and he just loves to play."

And it appears Bomber fans will be able to enjoy watching Walls for several years to come. As the Sun reported earlier this week, Walls and the Bombers are close to agreeing on a contract extension.

Of course, that's assuming Walls, going into the option year of his CFL deal, doesn't crack an NFL roster.

Walls finished his acceptance speech by calling out a veteran teammate.

"I'm looking for Milt Stegall," he said. "I heard him on TV saying how good he looked -- I wanted him to know I'm giving him a run for his money," said a snappy looking Walls in his tuxedo.


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