Calgary Stampeders lead CFL with eight all-star selections

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Derek Dennis never doubted what he could do.

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When he was re-signed by the Calgary Stampeders last January after nearly two years without playing a down of football, there were plenty of skeptics who questioned whether the 33-year-old could still perform at an elite level.

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Nobody is wondering that anymore.

After an impressive season that saw Dennis play a key role on a Stampeders offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in the CFL (17) by a large margin and helped the team’s running backs rumble to a league-leading 135.3 rushing yards per game, the veteran left tackle was officially named to the league’s all-star team on Tuesday morning.

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“It’s amazing, honestly, that was one of my biggest goals coming into this year, being able to show people I was still an all-star, so I’m just glad I was able to get the recognition,” Dennis said.

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Dennis was one of eight Stampeders named to the CFL’s all-star team. No squad in the league had more.

While the Stampeders’ season ended in disappointment when they lost to the B.C. Lions in the West Division Semifinal, the all-star nods point to the talent the team had at its disposal.

And for Dennis, it’s proof of what he always knew.

“Honestly, I’m at that point in my career where I don’t need to prove anything to anybody,” Dennis said. “I think I’ve done it long enough that people know as long as I’m able to touch the field, I’m going to perform when the lights are on. That’s all I need.”

Here are the seven other Stampeders’ all-stars:

Ka’Deem Carey, running back

This one was a total no-brainer. Carey was the best running back in the CFL in 2022 by a wide margin. He ran the ball for 1,088 yards. Nobody ran for more. He was tops among running backs with 10 rushing touchdowns, led the league in rushing yards per game (77.7), 100-yard games (three), carries of at least 10 yards (34) and carries of at least 20 yards (11). There’s often a fun debate to be had about all-star selections. Not this one. It was Carey, no matter how you cut it.

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Stampeders running back Ka’Deem Carey.
Stampeders running back Ka’Deem Carey. Photo by Al Charest /Postmedia

Mike Rose, defensive tackle

Watch the Stampeders’ defence, and Rose’s contributions immediately stand out. Playing on the inside of the defensive line, Rose was a disruptor for a unit that led the CFL in sacks — he had seven on his own — while ranking first in the West Division and second in the CFL with just 89.1 rushing yards allowed per game. Rose also had 25 tackles, four tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one interception. The guy did everything for the Stampeders this season.

Shawn Lemon, defensive end

There’s a good chance this won’t be the only honour Lemon receives from the CFL this week. He’s also the West Division finalist for the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player award after a  season in which he shared the league lead with five forced fumbles, finished second with 14 sacks and added 28 defensive tackles, two fumble recoveries and four pass knockdowns. He was a menace, plain and simple.

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Sean McEwen, centre

Signing McEwen in free agency in 2020 is the gift that keeps on giving for the Stampeders. The Calgary native has long been established as the league’s top centre, and like Dennis, played a pivotal role in shaping the league’s most elite offensive line. He was a West Division all-star in 2021 and rightfully earned the league-wide honour for a big-time season this year.

Cameron Judge, linebacker

Everyone knew Judge was good. But this good? In his first year with the Stampeders, Judge fit right in with the culture at McMahon Stadium and quickly built a partnership with Jameer Thurman that dominated the middle of the field. Judge led the CFL in fumble recoveries, with five, while also leading the Stamps with 78 defensive tackles. He also had three tackles for loss, two special-teams tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions, while adding two defensive tackles. In other words, he did pretty much everything.

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Rene Paredes, kicker

If this was Paredes’ last season, he’s going out on top. The 37-year-old led the CFL with 211 points, 54 field goals and five field goals of at least 50 yards, while converting 90% of his field-goal attempts for a sixth time. The fact that he set a career high with a 53-yarder in Week 10 speaks to his remarkable ability to somehow get better with age. The guy’s a Calgary legend, and Stamps fans will be hoping they haven’t seen the last of him. If he does retire, an all-star nod’s not a bad way to go out.

Cody Grace, punter

The big-booted Aussie is one of the Stampeders’ secret weapons. He punts the ball hard. He led the CFL in punting average (48.2 yards) and net punting average (39.6), and had a season-long punt of 77 yards while also pinning the opposition inside its own 10-yard line four times. Somehow, he also managed to recover one of his own punts in Week 21, which led to a Stampeders touchdown.

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