Chris Merchant is looking to wrap up his playing career with another Yates Cup championship and Vanier Cup ring, but the fifth-year Mustang quarterback has already added a new trophy to his shelf – Ontario University Athletics (OUA) MVP.
Defensive back Kojo Odoom picked up Rookie of the Year honours (Norm Marshall Award) and head coach Greg Marshall earned Coach of the Year (David ‘Tuffy’ Knight Award) for the seventh time. The OUA announced the awards Thursday morning.
Merchant, a Calgary, Alta. native, helped lead the Mustangs to their third consecutive undefeated regular season this year with a 68.5 per cent completion rate and 14 touchdowns. He was just as dangerous on the ground, rushing the ball a career-high 77 times for another 438 yards and six scores.
Merchant passed for a season-high 355 yards in Western’s early season win over Queen’s and continued his dominance in the final three wins of the season with over 1,000 passing yards and nine touchdowns. He would finish the year topping all OUA quarterbacks in pass efficiency at 167.7.
Statistics aside, one of the most impressive aspects of Merchant’s season was an ability to guide an offence that featured several young players on the offensive line, as well as a changing of the guard in the backfield. The poise and veteran leadership he had amassed in Western’s long postseason runs in recent years were imperative to the team manufacturing yet another undefeated campaign.
Merchant’s trophy case also includes second team OUA all-star status in 2018, first team all-start in 2019, the Dalt White Trophy as Yates Cup MVP and Mitchell Bowl MVP (both in 2018) and winning the Ted Morris Memorial Trophy (2017).
It can be a difficult transition for young football players to jump from high school to the OUA level, but Odoom didn’t take long to show he belonged among the best in the country.
The first-year defensive back from Surrey, B.C. came to the defending Yates Cup champion Mustangs with an all-around game that showcased hard hits, strong coverage ability and tremendous ball skills.
Odoom registered 15 solo tackles and 10 assisted tackles. He also led all Western defensive players with four pass breakups this season and, in his first playoff game last week, picked up a pair of interceptions including one he took back 65 yards to help the Mustangs punch their ticket to yet another Yates Cup.
Longevity is one of the true marks of greatness and as the Mustang head coach, Marshall has been leading his teams to championships for several years running.
The former Mustang player won his first two Coach of the Year honours back in 1999 and 2000 when he led the McMaster Marauders. Since 2010, Marshall has taken home the award more five times, eclipsing former Western head coach Larry Haylor’s six coaching honours.
Now in his 13th season in charge of the Mustangs, Marshall has guided the team to six Yates Cup victories. Marshall’s team has not missed a beat in 2019, running the table on the OUA schedule and leading the conference with 36 points per game and finishing third with 468 yards per contest. Marshall’s offence was an OUA-best 9.8 passing yards per attempt and were league-highs in both first downs (223), rushing first downs (99) and third-down conversions (72 per cent).
The accolades keep pouring in the for the Mustangs as the OUA announced its 2019 first- and second-team all-stars, with Western and the Laurier Golden Hawks each nabbing a league-best 10 all-stars, including nine first-team Mustangs.
Merchant makes the leap this year to first-team after racking up 2,378 yards for the purple and white thanks, in part, to his offensive line, with four members joining him as all-stars. Elliot Beamer, Zack Fry, Spencer Hood and Dylan Giffen all earned nods, with Giffen among the Top 20 in the CFL’s first scouting bureau ranks of the season, coming in at No. 16 to open up the year.
Rounding out the Mustangs’ offensive honours are Brett Ellerman with 39 receptions, 621 yards, and five touchdowns. On the ground, running back Trey Humes racked up 705 yards and three majors this season.
Taking not one but two spots on the first team is one of the league’s most consistent and clutch kickers, Marc Liegghio, backed by his 22 field goals. The kicker and punter became not only the OUA’s all-time leader in points scored, but also the U SPORTS record-holder in career field goals made with 92.
As the final member of Western’s first-team contingent, Bleska Kambamba is the Mustangs lone defender to earn the honour with 31 tackles and a pair of interceptions.