Alouettes' Marc-Antoine Dequoy is East Division's nominee for top Canadian

Now in his third season, the play of the 6-foot-3, 205-pound safety proved pivotal in Montreal compiling an 11-7 record this season.

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When Marc-Antoine Dequoy was a star defensive player at Université de Montréal, the ball seemed to follow him. He recorded 12 interceptions, six returned for touchdowns, and was the Quebec conference player of the year in 2018.

But that was as a field halfback. The Alouettes moved him to safety after drafting him 14th overall in 2020.

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Now in his third season, the play of the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Dequoy proved pivotal in Montreal (11-7) finishing second in the East Division. And on Wednesday, the Île-Bizard native was rewarded, selected as the division’s outstanding Canadian player.

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“I’ll be honest, I’ve never been that kind of guy who looks for those (individual awards),” Dequoy told the Montreal Gazette by telephone. “I’m thankful and I know, for some people, it’s important for them. No disrespect. I know it’s a great honour, but it never was something that truly I was waiting for.

“The biggest trophy (Grey Cup) is the one you can’t get voted on.”

Dequoy emerged as one of the most impactful players on a defence that carried the team throughout the season. Playing in all 18 regular-season games, the 29-year-old had 57 defensive tackles, a team-leading five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns — including a CFL-leading 108 yarder against Ottawa — three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries while knocking down six passes. He also contributed on special teams, with five tackles.

“Obviously he has the talent and ability,” Als defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe said. “You see the plays he has made. What you don’t see is what goes into it — a lot of film study and preparation; a lot of work in the off-season. Combine that with a guy that pursues the ball relentlessly, things are going to happen.

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“He has a large skill set and is able to cover ground. He’s not one-dimensional as a free safety. He can cover, close and tackle. He makes plays on the ball.”

Dequoy advances to the final round of voting, where he’ll be opposed by Winnipeg tailback Brady Oliveira, who led the league in rushing with 1,534 yards (5.9-yard average) while scoring nine touchdowns. He produced seven games of 100 yards or more, while also setting career highs in receptions (38) and receiving yards (482).

Oliveira was so dominant, he’s a double nominee and will face Toronto quarterback Chad Kelly in the most outstanding player category.

Other nominees: Adarius Pickett, Toronto; Mathieu Betts, B.C. (defence); Dejon Allen, Toronto; Jermarcus Hardick, Winnipeg (offensive lineman); Qwan’tez Stiggers, Toronto; Kai Gray, Edmonton, (rookie); Javon Leake, Toronto; Sean Whyte, B.C. (special teams). Coach of the year is between Toronto’s Ryan Dinwiddie and Winnipeg’s Mike O’Shea.

The voting was conducted by various members of the Football Reporters of Canada along with the league’s head coaches. The winners will be announced Nov. 16, during Grey Cup week in Hamilton.

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Dequoy always knew he was capable of becoming a playmaker, but said he has improved with experience and is more comfortable as a safety. One of the Als’ quickest defensive players — 4.35 seconds over 40 yards at his pro day — he has used visualization techniques to raise his performance. Thorpe said he has improved fundamentally. Where Dequoy read the play quickly but was slow to react, he is now quick on both fronts, Thorpe added.

“I’d never played safety, where you see the full field and are lined up 12 to 15 yards deep,” Dequoy explained. “It’s a different type of play and movement. I always had that talent to be that type of player and was confident in my talent, but it was the first time I was put in those shoes. The more reps, the better you get. Next year I’ll be better than this year. The only limit is going to be on my age. It’s a physical sport and you play the game until the body shuts down.

“I still have to go through the West Division where you have, in my opinion, one of the best in Oliveira.”

The Als continued practising Wednesday for Saturday’s division semifinal against Hamilton at Molson Stadium.

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