Calgary's Jon Cornish understands math behind his success | Football | CBC Sports

CFLCalgary's Jon Cornish understands math behind his success

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 | 11:51 AM

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Calgary's Jon Cornish, right, has the ability to be the first Canadian to lead the CFL in rushing since Orville Lee in 1988. (Ian Jackson/Canadian Press) Calgary's Jon Cornish, right, has the ability to be the first Canadian to lead the CFL in rushing since Orville Lee in 1988. (Ian Jackson/Canadian Press)

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The study of Jon Cornish is an exercise in applied analysis and probability. Handy, because mathematics is something the Calgary Stampeders running back warms to, so much so he's going back to school to get a degree (No. 2) in it.
The study of Jon Cornish is an exercise in applied analysis and probability.

Handy, because mathematics is something the Calgary Stampeders running back warms to, so much so he's going back to school to get a degree (No. 2) in it.

Analysis should tell you that anyone who came out of B.C. with the ridiculous stats young Cornish had would have been taken seriously when he appeared at the University of Kansas in 2002.

Didn't happen.

Analysis should tell you a guy who wound up five years later breaking the all-time, single-season rushing mark with the Jayhawks might have had a chance to do something serious in the NFL, or at least step right into a starting job in the Canadian Football League.

Nope.

Probability, on the other hand, says the idea of a Canadian-born runner becoming one of the best in the league at that position is a bit of a stretch.

Don't tell him that.

It's been that way for Jon Cornish since he started playing football in high school - X + Y = You never know until you try.

And second effort seems to have been born into the New Westminster-bred star.  That's why his success doesn't seem to shock him.

"Never been a surprise to me, just a surprise to everyone else," said the personable Cornish, chatting in the lobby of the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, where the Stamps were recently staying.

"I'm not trying to be cocky, but I know what I'm capable of," he says. "That's why I didn't try my hand in the NFL, because if I went down, I knew I'd probably be a backup guy."

Hands, you see. It all added up. His hands weren't good enough. Yet.

There is something of a mathematical certainty to how Cornish went from nowhere to somewhere in a few thousand easy lessons. You can add them up.

1. Cornish attended St. Thomas More Collegiate, a famously sporty private school in Burnaby for the purpose of getting a good education and running track.

Football reared its head and the already strong young man took to both sides of the ball easily. He rushed for over 2,000 yards and 31 touchdowns in his final year, while also starring on defence.

Pluses and minuses

Plus 1. The University of Kansas called, but like so many other Canadians before him in the NCAA, the first order of business was convincing everyone he really could play the sport.

After dressing and playing against UNLV in the second game, he was "medically redshirted," a phrase with so many different meanings adding up to his saving a year of eligibility for later.

Minus 1. In spring camp of 2003, Cornish "tweaked my quad a little bit, and I went up to the trainers and told them and they did a strength test and it was fine."

Except it wasn't, because the player was one of those folks who simply plays through pain.

"It proceeded to get worse and worse and I eventually had a full-blown tear in the muscle and they still refused to recognize I was having a problem because I was still able to do everything requested of me on the football field."

If you catch Cornish in shorts one day, ask him to pull the left flap up and show you the lump there, where the former quad now sits like a foothill over the valley that is his upper thigh.

He says it didn't look that bad at first, just grew that way.

Plus 1. The next two seasons, Cornish led Kansas in special teams tackles while basically standing on the sidelines during practice watching everyone else get reps. But the guy everyone thought "was a weakling" began to make an impression.

At the same time, he was getting involved in student politics, helping to spearhead a drive for campus Wi-Fi, and successfully battling to reduce a three-lane road outside the dorm to two-lanes so people could cross safely.

Times 2. Fourth year was a breakout. Despite not starting a single game, Cornish won the 2005 John Hadl Award as top offensive player for Kansas, leading the team in rushing, rushing TDs, yards per game, plus running for 101 yards in a bowl game victory over Houston.

Times 2. As a senior, something special: 1,457 yards to break the all-time single-season mark at Kansas. Gale Sayers, the NFL Hall of Famer, went to Kansas. John Riggins, the NFL Hall of Famer, went to Kansas.

Cornish was fifth in the nation in rushing before bowl numbers were included. Kansas didn't go to a bowl that year.

Minus 1. Undrafted by the NFL, he came up to the Stampeders, who had taken Cornish in his junior year, and ran into another roadblock.

Seems the Calgary coaching staff "hadn't seen a single down of my tape," he says, so "I basically just came up and in my first camp didn't touch the ball in a game. That was unfortunate."

So he went out and led the club in special teams tackles for 2008.

Plus 1. In 2008, John Hufnagel took over as head coach and a relationship was born.

"I knew I had a good player, but I didn't know if I had a good professional running back," says Hufnagel now. "Jon would tell you the story, too, where after the first day of training camp I brought him in about a drill he was doing - not very well - and we talked about that.

"I think that opened his eyes a little bit as far as what a running back needed to do in the CFL to play."

Times 2. Now the math accelerates.

In 2008, there were 30 carries for 254 yards, playing behind star Joffery Reynolds.

After a 2009 knee injury slowed him down a little bit, the following year saw 85 carries for 618 yards. And last season, replacing Reynolds mid-way, there were 119 carries for 863 yards, plus a 127-yard game in a losing playoff effort.

And, after working for years on his hands, he's also a good receiver out of the backfield.

All of this equals no more than X. Yes, X is the unknown. Just how good can Cornish be?

"He can be as good as he wants to be," says Hufnagel. "He has the ability to be an outstanding running back."

Including, the coach says, leading the league in rushing, something not done by a Canadian since Orville Lee turned it in 1988.

Of course, math does not always add up the way you want it to. After averaging well over seven yards a carry into 2012, the first three games this year have seen opposing defences now keying on Cornish and making his life harder - 35 carries for 161 yards, a 4.6 average.

It's another equation to work out.

What would Cornish like the answer to be?

"Every player wants to be remembered, and stuff," he says. "I want to be remembered as one of the good Canadians to play this game, and one of the great running backs to play."

Those numbers are achievable.

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