Jon Cornish is again chasing CFL history.
The Calgary Stampeders running back was named a finalist for the league’s outstanding player award, along with receiver/kick-returner Chad Owens of the Toronto Argonauts.
Cornish ran for a league-best 1,457 yards and not only became the first Canadian to lead the CFL in rushing since ‘88 but also broke Norm Kwong’s 56-year-old record for most rushing yards in a season by a Canuck of 1,437.
The six-foot, 217-pound native of New Westminster, B.C., could become the first Canadian to claim the award since Tony Gabriel in 1978. Gabriel and former standout quarterback Russ Jackson (1963, ’66, ‘69) are the only Canadians to ever win it.
And Cornish would be the first running back to do so since Montreal’s Mike Pringle in ‘98.
“It’s going to be very interesting,” Cornish said. “I think him coming out of the East is sort of a statement about how the season has played out.
“It hasn’t been a typical season in terms of statistics. You have a special-teams player leading the league in receiving and you have a running back (outgaining) the longest receiver. It’s very interesting.”
Owens set a pro football record of 3,863 all-purpose yards. The 30-year-old Hawaii native and also led the CFL in receiving (94 catches, 1,328 yards, six TDs), kickoff returns (71 for 1,588 yards) and total return yards (2,510).
“Me personally I set the bar high for myself . . . having a chance to be a (most outstanding player) that’s the top right?” Owens said. “As a player you never want to try to be No. 2 . . . you always want to try to be the best.
“So for me, it’s winning the Grey Cup, obviously, and, if I’m fortunate enough, to have an opportunity to one day be a most outstanding player.”
Voting was conducted by the Football Reporters of Canada and eight CFL head coaches. The award winners will be named Nov. 22 in Toronto.
Toronto head coach Scott Milanovich said there isn’t much to choose between Owens and Cornish.
“He’s had a great season too,” Milanovich said of Cornish. “They’re both deserving.”
“Cornish is an awesome player,” he said. “He’s obviously done what he needed to do to get to this point, to get nominated as well.
“He’s a hell of a football player.”
Quarterback Ricky Ray threw for 4,059 yards in his first season with Toronto and credited Owens with helping ease his transition following nine seasons in Edmonton.
“He made my job easy,” Ray said. “He’s definitely a playmaker, whether it’s offence or special teams so I’m just happy to have him on my team and helping me out.”
This marks the third straight year Owens has been nominated for an award. He was named the league’s top special-teams player in 2010 and was the finalist last year to B.C. kicker Paul McCallum.
Cornish and Montreal Alouettes linebacker Shea Emry, of Richmond, B.C., were nominated in two categories.
They’re finalists for the top Canadian award while Emry will go up against Edmonton linebacker J.C. Sherritt for outstanding defensive player honours. Sherritt had a league-record 130 tackles this season along with three sacks and five interceptions.
“Shea’s had a great season” Cornish said. “His game versus Toronto a few weeks back — I was impressed by how fast he was.
“He’s laid some licks and he’s a great player. I’ve always really enjoyed playing against him. (The award) could go either way.”
Emry had a career-best 87 tackles to finish fifth in the CFL while adding seven sacks and seven special-teams tackles. He’s the first Canadian to be named a finalist for the top defensive player award since 2006 when defensive end Brent Johnson, a native of Kingston, Ont., won it.
Johnson, Edmonton’s Dave Fennell (1978) and Saskatchewan’s Bill Baker (1976) are the only Canadians to be named the league’s top defensive player.
The other nominees include: Hamilton receiver Chris Williams and B.C.’s Tim Brown (top special-teams player); Lions’ offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye and Montreal tackle Josh Bourke (outstanding lineman); and Winnipeg receiver Chris Matthews and B.C. defensive lineman Jabar Westerman (top rookie).
The five-foot-nine, 155-pound Williams — the CFL’s top rookie last season — had a league-record six return touchdowns in 2012 (five punts, one missed field goal). He 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 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).
Bourke and Olafioye are outstanding lineman nominees for the second straight year. Bourke won it last season.
The six-foot-seven, 315-pound Bourke anchored an offensive line that surrendered just 30 sacks as Montreal finished tied for first in the CFL in both touchdowns and fewest sacks allowed as well as second in passing. The 30-year-old Windsor, Ont., native was a 2011 league all-star.
The six-foot-six, 346-pound 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.
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 by B.C. and recorded 14 tackles and four sacks for a defence that led the league in 18-of-25 categories, including sacks (47).