Chad Owens has come full circle.
In 2008, Owens was injured and out of football, unsure about his future. On Thursday night, the Toronto Argonauts speedy receiver was named the CFL's outstanding player.
"Four years ago I had no real idea what the CFL was," said Owens, who accepted the trophy with his nine-year-old son, Chad Jr., who completed his first year of football as a defensive player. "Everything that happened to me prior in my career, it all happened for this moment.
"In 2008 did I see this? No. But this off-season did I see this? Yes. You always have to believe you have a chance and I truly did. I'm just so thankful it came true."
Owens, 30, affectionately dubbed 'The Flyin' Hawaiian', got the nod over Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish in voting by the Football Reporters of Canada and the eight CFL head coaches. Owens received 41 of the 57 available ballots.
The five-foot-eight, 180-pound Owens led the CFL in receiving (94 catches for 1,328 yards and six TDs), return yards (2,510) and all-purpose yards (league-record 3,863). Owens is a big reason why Toronto will make its first Grey Cup appearance since '04 when it faces Cornish and the Stampeders in the 100th anniversary of the CFL's title game Sunday at Rogers Centre.
After an outstanding career at the University of Hawaii, Owens was drafted in the sixth round of the 2005 NFL draft by Jacksonville. But after bouncing between the Jaguars (twice) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers he signed with the Arena Football League's Colorado Crush.
Owens, a married father of three, ripped up his knee in '08 with the Crush, then the league folded.
He joined the Montreal Alouettes in '09 but after spending most of the season on the practice roster was dealt to Toronto on June 24, 2010 for a 2011 fourth-round draft pick. Owens took off with the Argos, being named the league's top special-teams player in 2010 and is the only player in pro football history to surpass 3,000 all-purpose yards in three straight seasons.
"This means hard work, perseverance, dedication, passion if you do all those things dreams can come true," he said. "You can attain your goals no matter how high or unachievable they may seem.
"I've got plenty of motivation from my family already but I want to go out there and be the best every time I step on to the field. That's why you play, you don't play to be second place."
Owens heaped lavish praise upon Cornish.
"Jon had a great year, I really appreciate the way you play," Owens said. "Everyone should look at that as an example of how you play the game.
Cornish named top Canadian
A record-breaking season earned Cornish the CFL's top Canadian award.
"I'd like to thank my two moms because who are you without family," he said. "They are the two most important people in my life so having them there made the event that much more special.
"It's a tremendous honour and at this point in my career it's the biggest accolade I've achieved and I'm definitely thankful."
Cornish especially appreciated Stampeders offensive lineman Dimitri Tsoumpas pulling him aside last year after the club released Joffrey Reynolds, Calgary's all-time rushing leader, to get Cornish into the starting lineup.
"He told me I had big shoes to fill and for me that really enlightened me because Joffrey Reynolds is a future Hall of Famer," Cornish said. "I didn't really understand I was taking his job… but the reality was that I took his job and I didn't really appreciate that fact."
Cornish, a native of New Westminster, B.C., is also a finalist for the CFL's outstanding player award with Toronto's Chad Owens.
Cornish led the CFL in rushing with 1,457 yards, becoming the first Canadian to do so since Orville Lee achieved the feat in '88 with Ottawa.
Cornish also broke Norm Kwong's 56-year-old record for most rushing yards in a season by a Canuck of 1,437.
Montreal Alouettes linebacker Shea Emry was a finalist for the award.
Eskimos' Sherritt wins top defensive award
A record-setting performance earned Edmonton Eskimos linebacker J.C. Sherritt the CFL's top defensive player award.
"I have to thank the CFL, it's been a blessing for me," he said. "I also have to thank my teammates because that defensive line protected me.
"I share this award with them and it's an honour, but this is all about a ring. I've always been about championships and will continue to be that way."
Montreal's Emry was a finalist for the award.
Sherritt was a sparkplug all season for the Eskimos, registering a league-record 130 tackles along with three sacks and five interceptions.
However, he missed Edmonton's playoff loss to Toronto in the East Division semifinal due to a foot injury.
Emry, a native of Richmond, B.C., had a career-best 87 tackles this season with seven sacks.
Special-teams award heads to Hamilton
Receiver Chris Williams of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was recognized as the league's top special-teams player, receiving the honour ahead of Tim Brown of the B.C. Lions.
It's the second straight year Williams has claimed a CFL individual award, having been named the league's top rookie last season.
"Wow, I can't believe it, two years in a row," Williams said. "I have to thank my teammates, they did a great job and made my job easy.
"But we didn't have the greatest year as a team and we're going to have to work on changing that."
The five-foot-nine, 155-pound Williams had a league-record six return touchdowns in 2012 (five punts, one missed field goal).
Williams was tops in punt returns (78 for 1,117 yards) and second in missed field goal returns (five for 256 yards).
Brown finished second to Toronto's Chad Owens in all-purpose yards (2,687), was second in punt returns (72 for 914 yards, two TDs) and third in kickoff returns (55 for 1,303 yards).
Lions have top lineman
The second time was the charm for Jovan Olafioye, who received 37 votes after being the finalist to Montreal's Josh Bourke for the 2011 top lineman award. This year, it was Bourke, 30, of Windsor, Ont., who settled for being the runner-up.
But Olafioye was still stinging from B.C.'s West Division semifinal loss to Calgary.
"I still have a real bitter taste in my mouth about the game," he said. "I'd feel a lot better to be here with my teammates and celebrating this together."
Olafioye helped B.C.'s offence lead the CFL in yards per game and rushing.
The 24-year-old Detroit native hasn't missed a start in three seasons with the Lions.
Top rookie a Blue Bomber
Winnipeg Blue Bombers wide receiver Chris Matthews was named the CFL's top rookie, beating out B.C. Lions defensive lineman Jabar Westerman.
The six-foot-five, 229-pound Matthews was Winnipeg's leading receiver as a rookie, sixth overall, with 81 catches for 1,192 yards and seven TDs despite the Bombers using three different quarterbacks this season.
Westerman, a native of Brampton, Ont., was selected second overall in the 2012 CFL draft and recorded 14 tackles and four sacks for a defence that led the league in 18-of-25 categories, including sacks (47).
Montreal receiver Brian Bratton won the Tom Pate award for community service.
The CFL awards were sponsored by Gibson's Finest.