CFP Canadian Three Stars - Week 1
The Canadian Football League is back and in full swing, and after 620 days without the game we all love, we were treated to a quartet of games to kick off the 2021 campaign.
It all got underway with a Grey Cup rematch between the defending champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats while a Saturday doubleheader tied a nice bow on the long-awaited return of the CFL.
We want to shine a special light on the National players in the CFL here at CFP. Each week, we’ll go through the Canucks that made the biggest impact for their respective teams and award the CFP National Star of the Week along with the second and third stars.
Week 1 had no shortage of big-time performances from Canadian talents, but there were three individuals that stood out from the rest of the pack.
Let’s hop in and give a hand to the top performers hailing from north of the border.
First star: Winnipeg Blue Bombers RB Brady Oliveira
There isn’t another player this honour could have gone to for Week 1.
Replacing Andrew Harris is a nearly impossible task. Johnny Augustine did it for a small stretch during the 2019 season, but there’s really no replicating the impact that the reigning Grey Cup MVP and Most Valuable Canadian brings on a week-to-week basis.
When it was announced that Harris would be watching the season opener from the sidelines, Winnipeg’s task of defeating Hamilton became even more difficult.
Enter Brady Oliveira. The 14th overall pick in the 2019 CFL Draft suffered a season-ending leg injury early in his rookie campaign had a chance to get off the ground.
The Winnipeg native came into his first career start and put on a show in front of his hometown crowd.
Oliveira rumbled for 126 yards on 22 carries while adding 21 receiving yards on a screen pass. Despite finishing without a touchdown, Oliveira played one of the biggest roles in the Bombers’ first victory of the season, as he was dependable every time he touched the ball -- as was evident by his 5.5 yards per carry -- and helped the team to kill the clock down the stretch.
It’s not fair to Oliveira at this point to expect him to have a performance like that on a week-to-week basis. There will likely be some regression. But if he runs with the same downhill aggression all year, he’s going to have some big games.
Harris’ return still looms overhead, and he’ll undoubtedly slide back into his role at the top dog for Mike O’Shea’s squad when he’s healthy. But for now, these reps are massive for Oliveira, and he’ll be an elite backup option at the least when Harris comes back.
The Winnipeg backfield is in great hands, for now, and the future.
Second Star: BC Lions QB Nathan Rourke
Imagine being drafted, waiting a year, and being named the second-string quarterback in your rookie campaign.
Now imagine being minutes out from your first career game and finding out last minute that you’d be starting after the first-string QB tweaked something in warmups.
Nathan Rourke didn’t have to imagine on Friday night.
The Victoria, BC native was the man to control the huddle for the Leos to start their opening game of the season, as Michael Reilly couldn’t start the contest.
As if there wasn’t enough pressure on the rookie already, he was starting in front of a solid out Mosaic Stadium.
Rourke had a solid showing, finishing the game with 194 yards along with two touchdowns and a pair of picks on 10-for-18 passing.
Reilly did enter in the second half and had a solid showing himself, but it was Rourke who finished the game for the Lions, who came up just short in their first outing of the year.
In a similar situation to Oliveira, the Canadian pivot is in a great spot to get reps and learn behind one of the best players in the game.
When healthy, Reilly is a top-three signal-caller in the CFL. From early reports, it sounds as though Rourke will be the starter once again on Thursday, and these reps could be massive for his development at just 23 years old.
Third Star: Toronto Argonauts REC Kurleigh Gittens Jr.
During the entire 2019 season, I was hoping for a big game from Kurleigh Gittens Jr.
We like corny puns with headlines, and “While the Gittens’ good” was one that got left on the cutting room floor, unfortunately.
So when he got in the end zone for the Argonauts in Calgary this past weekend, I was extremely excited to talk some Gittens Jr.
In the case of Gittens, it was the timeliness and impact he made that gets him the nod this week.
With the Argos trailing 20-12 in the fourth, Gittens found himself open in the middle of the end zone off a post route. His second catch of the game went for six and the ensuing two-point convert tied it up, eventually leading to Boris Bede’s game-winning field goal with under a minute to play.
Gittens spent the majority of his rookie season on special teams, and despite being a part of an extremely loaded receivers room, he managed to have one of the biggest plays of the game for the Double Blue.
Austin Owens is a double grad in journalism at Centennial College, previously a Junior Content Coordinator with the CFL and has also had stops at Sportsnet 590 the FAN and theScore.