Entering his sixth season with the Calgary Stampeders, Jon Cornish has firmly entrenched himself as a premier running back in the Canadian Football League.
Last year, Cornish had a breakout season with the Stampeders as he ran for a career-high 863 yards and nine touchdowns.
“I’ve always known I can be a top running back in this league,” said Cornish, who also racked up 385 receiving yards and hauled in two touchdown passes last season. “I’m not going to lie. That’s the reason why I came up to the CFL rather than being some back-up in the NFL. I wanted to be one of the best Canadian players to ever play this game.”
The Stampeders drafted Cornish, who played college football for the University of Kansas Jayhawks, in the second round (13th overall) of the 2006 CFL Canadian Draft.
From 2008 to 2010, Cornish served as Calgary’s primary backup running back. That all changed 13 weeks into the 2011 season, when Cornish supplanted Joffrey Reynolds as starting running back for the Stamps.
“I never competed against anybody,” said Cornish, who hails from New Westminster, B.C. “It’s weird to really say that, but for me I just wanted to be the best player I can be and that’s how I’ve approached camp every year. I never really viewed it as me having a personal competition with any running back I’ve been against. I’ve always thought to be the best running back I can be and the rest just happens.”
Cornish pointed to Calgary’s depth on offence as a big reason why he has found success as a running back in the CFL.
“I’m in a very fortunate position that I have another running back, LaMarcus Coker, that’s equal in everything that I can do and we have so many great wide receivers that are all equal in their own right,” Cornish said. “We have too many weapons. If you want to take away one, we’re just going to use another.”
Offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson has been impressed with Cornish’s attitude during training camp leading into Calgary’s first exhibition game at home on Friday night against the Edmonton Eskimos.
“As long as he focuses on the game I think he’ll have a great year,” Dickenson said. “He’s a smart player. This year he’s shown to catch the ball better. He’s obviously a very good runner. He’s got pretty good top-end (speed) and he’s strong. He breaks tackles. He really is the complete package.”
With Reynolds out of the picture in Calgary for the first time since the 2003 season, Dickenson said he has complete faith that Cornish can continue to shine in a starting role.
“Jon showed when he’s given the workload, he’s right there with any back in the league so just continue to do that,” Dickenson said.
Calgary quarterback Drew Tate said he’s “absolutely” excited to see what his quirky teammate can accomplish in a full season as a starter.
“He might be one of the weirdest people I’ve ever met, but he brings it every game day so you have to respect that,” said Tate, who also rose to prominence with the Stamps late last season when he displaced veteran pivot Henry Burris as Calgary’s starting quarterback. “He’s a great guy, a smart guy. I’m happy for him to have this situation. He’s definitely earned it.”
When Tate arrived on the scene in Calgary in 2009, both Cornish and Rob Cote were in their third seasons with the Stampeders trying to make a name for themselves as running backs.
“Cote made a remark back in ‘09 that he can’t wait for the day that he sees us three starting,” Tate recalled. “That happened the last couple games of last year and now it’s coming into this year.”
While the regular season doesn’t get under way until July 1, Tate said he’s eagerly anticipating Friday’s pre-season test against the Eskimos.
“I’m excited for this game,” Tate said. “That’s really where I’m at right now. I’m not trying to look ahead. I just want to take it one day at a time and earn it every day and (on Friday) I’m going to have to earn it.”
Cornish is also looking forward to getting back on the field in front of Calgary’s hometown fans at McMahon Stadium.
“It’s been a long off-season,” Cornish said. “I got a lot accomplished and stuff, but at the end of the day, this is what I do. This is what I love to do, so for me having the opportunity to come back out here, play again with all my teammates, that’s something that I look forward to all year long.”
Calgary coach and general manager John Hufnagel also can’t wait to see his players in action against the Eskimos.
“It’s been a long off-season and it’s been a long training camp,” Hufnagel said. “Our football team’s very excited about getting on the field Friday night and playing another team. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to evaluate not only our veteran players, but a lot of our new players and see what they can do when the lights are on and things are going full speed.”