Stampeder running back Jon Cornish is ready to rumble again.
The CFL’s most valuable player and leading rusher last season has been out of Calgary’s lineup with concussion symptoms since the first game of the season.
The Stampeders have Tuesday off and Cornish says he’ll be back to full practice on Wednesday. He says he intends to play Sunday in Ottawa against the RedBlacks.
Cornish was hit hard by Montreal Alouettes linebacker Kyries Hebert on June 28. Cornish was knocked out and an ambulance was summoned onto the field, but the Stampeder running back got up and walked to the clubhouse on his own.
“I’ve been ready to play for about two weeks now,” Cornish said on Monday. “The concussion wasn’t that bad, but all things considered, it was good that I had lots of time.”
The Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos are tied for the league and West Division lead at 6-1.
Cornish was placed on the six-game injured list on July 23, which made the 29-year-old from New Westminster, B.C., eligible to return Sept. 6. Clubs can pull players off the injured list early, however, which means their salaries start counting against the salary cap again.
Stampeder head coach and general manager John Hufnagel was less forthcoming about the possibility of Cornish playing on Sunday, but Hufnagel indicated both Cornish and Canadian running back Matt Walter would practise Wednesday.
Walter, 25, hasn’t played since the first quarter of a July 24 game in Edmonton. The Calgarian was also out with concussion symptoms.
Both Cornish and Walter participated in Monday’s rundown following Calgary’s 30-20 victory in Hamilton on Saturday.
Hebert was fined half his game cheque – the maximum fine allowed under the new collective bargaining agreement – for the hit on Cornish in the fourth quarter of the season-opener.
Despite getting knocked out, Cornish was talkative and jovial with reporters in the locker-room following that game. But he didn’t feel right after returning from the Stampeders’ subsequent bye week.
“The problem was my cognitive symptoms were very, very minor and they were gone quickly. But since I still had the headache … I had pretty bad whiplash, so that’s where most of it came from,” he explained.
“It was trying to force myself to get back on the field [that] was the biggest thing. We didn’t have my neck properly diagnosed, so I wasn’t running right and it was causing me problems. Once we got all that figured out, it was actually really, really simple.”
Cornish says once he went on the six-game injured list and stopped pushing to get back on the field, his recovery was rapid. But CFL concussion protocols do not allow players back on the field if they have any concussion symptoms.
Without football or his off-season job as a bank teller, Cornish was in the unfamiliar position of having time on his hands.
“I’m itching to work,” he said. “I haven’t worked at the bank for, including training camp, almost three months. I haven’t played a football game for seven weeks, so yeah, I haven’t really been doing much.
“I like to think of myself as a hard worker. Without anything to work hard at, it’s not as fun.”
Cornish won a second consecutive rushing title in 2013 with 1,813 yards, which was the fourth-highest in CFL history. He also led the league and set a new Stampeder record with 2,157 yards from scrimmage.
The absence of two Canadian tailbacks created both a revolving door at that position and a juggling act for Hufnagel with his ratio of international and non-international players.
Regular returner Jock Sanders was pressed into running back duties. Martell Mallett rushed for 116 yards in a 25-24 loss to the B.C. Lions on Aug. 8 in his first CFL game in five years.
With Mallett sidelined by a groin injury and Sanders day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, Hugh Charles ran for 102 yards in Hamilton in his first game as a Stampeder.
The Stampeders added the veteran Charles to the practice roster July 28 after his release from the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“I know the situation around here,” Charles said. “We have a lot of banged-up vets. Cornish is close to coming back. I wanted to make the most of it. Knowing that I am in the coach’s back pocket if need be, whatever happens is going to happen.”
The return of non-internationals Cornish and Walter could be good for veteran slotback Nik Lewis, who was a healthy scratch for two games because of ratio issues.
Mallett, the CFL’s rookie of the year in 2009 when he was a B.C. Lion, has been placed on the six-game injured list. Hufnagel said receiver Jeff Fuller (shoulder) and defensive lineman Micah Johnson (knee) are not expected to play Sunday.