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Former MSU Bobcat Lulay can expect awards to keep on coming
B.C. Lions quarterback Travis Lulay, a CFL all-star, is in the running for outstanding player in the league
Folks who paid $75 for reserved seating, and $150 for the VIP treatment, at next week’s CFL player awards gala might want to ask for their money back.
A CFL all-star team announced Wednesday, which includes Travis Lulay of the Lions as the starting quarterback over Montreal’s Anthony Calvillo, has turned next Thursday’s most outstanding player award announcement into a supreme anticlimax.
Lulay, the West Division nominee, and Calvillo, representing the East, are finalists for the 2011 most outstanding player trophy to be handed out at the Vancouver Convention Centre during Grey Cup week.
The decision to pick Lulay over Calvillo for the all-league quarterback position, however, portends another addition to Lulay’s previously sparse trophy case next week.
Our reasoning: How can voters possibly name Calvillo the CFL’s most outstanding player when they’ve decided one week earlier that he’s only the league’s second-best quarterback?
Lulay was made aware of his all-star selection before the Lions practised in beastly weather at their training facility Wednesday, in preparation for Sunday’s West Division final against the Edmonton Eskimos.
Perhaps the quarterback was too numbed by the damp and cold to fully appreciate the enormity of his accomplishment. But Lulay was curiously unmoved and unaffected, despite being named the league’s top quarterback in his first full season as a starter. He was one nine members of the West Division pennant-winning Lions named All-CFL, the most of any team.
Unlike many of us, Lulay didn’t take time to connect the dots between his all-star selection and next week’s CFL Academy Awards night.
“Honestly, I didn’t really think about it,” he said. “Honest, I found out about the all-stars at meetings this morning. Didn’t think any more about it.”
Well, think about this: It represents the most significant accolade in his mostly under-the-radar football career, and it and could be trumped by two more next week – the most outstanding player award and, perhaps, the Grey Cup, if the Lions qualify for the championship game.
During his prep days at Regis High in Aumsville, Ore., a community of 3,500, near the Oregon state capital of Salem, Lulay was twice named the state’s 2A offensive player of the year. But 2A represents one of the lowest divisions in the state, based on school population size, with 6A being the largest.
Passed over the by state’s NCAA Division I football powers, Oregon and Oregon State, Lulay accepted a scholarship offer from Division 1-AA Montana State and was named Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year in 2002, his freshman season with the Bobcats.
Yet, despite leaving MSU as the school’s all-time leading passer (10,746 yards), Lulay finished far down in the voting for the 2005 Walter Payton Award, given to the most outstanding player in Division 1-AA, since renamed Division I Subdivision. He finished ninth behind Eastern Washington’s Erik Meyer (currently with the Arena League’s Spokane Shock), No. 2 vote-getter, New Hampshire’s Ricky Santos (now the Montreal Alouettes third-string quarterback) and former Calgary Stampeders’ third-stringer Barrick Nealy of Texas State (No. 5).
Previous Walter Payton winners from the Big Sky Conference include Montana’s Dave Dickenson (1995) and Idaho’s Doug Nussmeier (1993), two former Lions quarterbacks. Dickenson was the QB of record when B.C. won its last Grey Cup, in 2006. Nussmeier, now the offensive coordinator with the Washington Huskies, was a backup to Damon Allen in 2000, when the Lions won their fourth Cup.
“In the ability to be an athlete, and scramble, I compare Travis to Jeff Garcia,” said Lions head coach Wally Buono. “Jeff was a great athlete, and Travis is too. But Travis has Dave’s moxie, football IQ and ability to retain information.”
“I’ve always liked Jeff Garcia, just became he’s a red-headed, feisty gunslinger,” said the carrot-topped Lulay. “He’s about my size. Mobile guy. He went to a relatively smaller school [San Jose State], had success in the CFL, then went to the NFL. As far as the same situation [Garcia jumped to the NFL in 1999, after being named Grey Cup MVP with the Stampeders] . . . no. I haven’t really thought about that.”
If Lulay seems to be channeling both Garcia and Dickenson, Buono insists his 28-year-old quarterback’s meteoric and dramatic one-year ascension to the top of the CFL heap didn’t catch him by surprise.
“We had high expectations for Trav after what he accomplished last year,” Buono said. “The assurance was how he handled the playoff game [2010 West Division semi-final against Saskatchewan] with all the different pressure levels. But it’s like everything: if the people around him are good, if the organization is stable, if the coaching is good, you don’t get that award [all-CFL] by yourself.
“I’m going to say this, in a nice way,” Buono added. “That, again, reinforces the fact that you must create an environment where your people can succeed. The environment that was kept here allowed nine guys – and one guy in particular [Lulay] – to achieve something that nobody after Game 5 [the Lions started 0-5] could have imagined.”
Indeed, Lulay is also a throwback to a time, before scouting services, agents and college bird dogs branded the best athletes in junior high, that there is still an opportunity for the obscure football player to rise up and leave people pleasantly surprised.
By Mike Beamish, The Vancouver Sun