Jon Cornish will go down as one of the greatest running backs in CFL history, and perhaps the greatest ever born in this country. As such, seeing him elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as part of the 2019 class was no surprise; it was a matter of when, not if. Cornish did things in this league we hadn’t seen in more than a decade and put Canadian tailbacks on the map in the process.
It’s funny; one of the things I remember vividly during Cornish’s career in Calgary was his desire not to be viewed as just a Canadian running back, and understandably so. What Cornish accomplished upon taking over the starting job with the Stampeders in 2011 was incredible for someone born on either side of the border.
Now a few years removed from his active career, though, Cornish says things have shifted a little bit. While initially he wanted his work to stand apart from his nationality, Cornish admitted to me last week he’s far more prideful of doing all he accomplished specifically as a Canadian.
“The opportunity I had in the CFL was because I was Canadian,” Cornish said. “A lot of teams had backups as a Canadian, but to establish myself as the guy – the amount of work I had to put in to become that.
“When Coach Hufnagel first came in, he said ‘John, if you want to be the guy, you have to be able to block’. So I had to bootstrap my blocking ability, which was at a, let’s call it, collegiate level into that of a professional back. There were a lot of different things I had to do to actually become a starting Canadian running back.
“Once I achieved that, you know, a lot of people continued to talk about that. In the back of my mind was my ultimate goal, which was to win the Lou Marsh Trophy, which was an award for Canadians. I felt that the CFL would be the best place to do that and it ended up working out.”
Cornish’s Lou Marsh Trophy aspirations did indeed end up working out; he won the award as Canada’s top athlete in 2013, which was just scratching the surface. Cornish won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian award three times, was the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 2013, and finished his career with three league All-Star nods and two Grey Cup rings.
Cornish’s 2013 season is one of the greatest we’ve ever seen from a running back. He finished with 1,813 rushing yards, which is the fourth most in league history and the most ever by a Canadian. It’s safe to say Cornish will be remembered as a great running back and a great Canadian.
“On the backside now, looking at this, I truly hope we have more Canadian running backs,” Cornish said. “More Canadian athletes coming up and seeing that if you have any kind of obstacles, any kind of resistance to what you’re trying to do, you can overcome that. You can figure it out and make something work for you.”
Regardless of where Cornish was born, he is fully deserving of his CFHOF nomination. But because he carries a Canadian passport, Cornish has opened a lot of doors for those who follow. Whether it’s North Dakota’s Brady Oliveira, Manitoba’s Jamel Lyles, or someone not on the radar right now, it’ll be a whole lot more difficult to overlook a player based on designation.
What Cornish accomplished is a big reason for that, which is something he should, and does, take pride in.
The 2019 NFL Draft is in the books and now we wait to see how this past weekend affects what happens Thursday in the CFL Draft. While none of the CFL Scouting Bureau’s top prospects were selected over seven rounds of drafting this weekend, there was one significant, albeit not unexpected, transaction.
Number one prospect Mathieu Betts is off to the NFL, signing with the Chicago Bears just hours after the NFL Draft wrapped up in Nashville. To see the standout Laval defensive lineman head south of the border really isn’t a surprise, though; NFL interest had kept him from the top of most CFL mock drafts.
While Betts will almost certainly be selected Thursday, it’ll come far later than his talent and ranking would suggest. That’s the way of the game and no one will be surprised if one of the country’s most talented players ends up being a mid-round pick. Far more uncertain is what happens to some of the other big names at the top of the Bureau’s list.
Players like Drew Desjarlais (OL, Windsor), Alex Fontana (OL, Kansas), Justin McInnis (WR, Arkansas State), and Michael O’Connor (QB, British Columbia), among others, have all accepted NFL mini-camp invites over the last 24 hours or so. What happens to their CFL Draft stock is far more of a guessing game than it is with Betts.
Because a mini-camp invite is anything but a guarantee for NFL work, we could very well see all of these guys go right around where the rankings would suggest. A good chunk of players who accept mini-camp invites don’t end up signing in the NFL, which means teams are usually not as wary of using a high pick.
Look at 2018, for example. Offensive linemen Dakoda Shepley (UBC) and Mark Korte (Alberta) were both top ranked prospects, but also accepted mini-camp invites prior to the CFL Draft. It didn’t affect where they were selected at all; Shepley went fifth overall to the Riders, one pick after Korte went fourth to Ottawa.
While Shepley did end up getting a contract with the New York Jets, he only dressed for pre-season games and signed a two-year deal with Saskatchewan in March. Korte got into CFL action even quicker; he dressed all season with the REDBLACKS, including in the Grey Cup, after attending mini-camp with the Houston Texans.
Get all the top stories from across the league delivered to your inbox.