Widely expected to win the award on Thursday for Most Outstanding Player in the CFL, Stamp running back has a message
REGINA — In his first semester at Kansas University, Jon Cornish ran smack into a stereotype he didn’t even know existed growing up in New Westminster, B.C.
“The No. 1 thing I hear when I went down to the States was that Canadians couldn’t ball,” the Calgary Stampeders tailback was saying Wednesday in a posh hotel ballroom in downtown Regina. “I heard that basically from the time that I got there to becoming the starter there.”
On the cusp of another date with history, Cornish has the opportunity to Thursday to become only the third homegrown player to win the Most Outstanding Player award in the Canadian Football League.
Tony Gabriel, of the defunct Ottawa Roughriders, was the last Canadian to hoist the award in 1978. Quarterback Russ Jackson (1963, ’66, and ’69) is the only other Canadian to win the highest individual honour in three-down football.
Should he join such select company at the Gibson’s Finest Player Awards, Cornish hopes Canadian kids will realize they, too, can succeed at what many still perceive an American game.
“There were a lot of guys in Kansas who had similar sentiments,” said Cornish, who is a lock to win his second Most Outstanding Canadian award over Winnipeg linebacker Henoc Muamba. “My head coach Mark Mangino, when I was down there, he threatened to ship me back to Canada in a FedEx box.
“Canadians couldn’t play, so he had to get me out of there as quickly as possible.”
As a Canadian playing a position normally reserved for an import, Cornish led the CFL in rushing this season with 258 carries for 1,813 yards and 12 touchdowns. In doing so, Cornish shattered the record he set in 2012 for most rushing yards by a Canadian in a single season.
Representing the East Division in the race for Most Outstanding Player is Ricky Ray. In just 10 games, the Toronto quarterback threw 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
In the process, Ray set a record by completing 77.2 per cent of his passes, breaking the previous benchmark set by Stampeders offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson.
When it comes to MOP, the knock on Ray is the small sample size of his performance.
“Cornish has been one of the best, most consistent guys we’ve had in this league over the last few years,” Ray said. “Just the numbers he’s been able to put up on a game by game basis. Add them up throughout the year, it’s been pretty special.
“I feel I had one of my best years as far as completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratio and all those sorts of things. It was just a shortened season for me.”
“Just being up against him,” Cornish said, “is one of the biggest honours I’ve had in playing football.”
Calgary rush end Charleston Hughes is up against Montreal linebacker Chip Cox for most outstanding defensive player. Calgary centre Brett Jones will tangle with Hamilton tailback C.J. Gable for top rookie. Calgary kicker Rene Paredes is up against Hamilton cover man Marc Beswick for top special-teams player.