Cornish relishes chance

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

A year ago, Jon Cornish's approach to Calgary Stampeders training camp -- actually, the whole CFL season -- was to simply listen and learn.

Being a rookie right out of college, the New Westminster, B.C., product knew he would remain in a back-up running back role and see special teams time, but that was it.

This time around, Cornish wants more.

The 23-year-old, drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft, wants to be seen as a go-to guy.

Knowing the Stampeders' starting tailback job belongs to Joffrey Reynolds, Cornish's goal is to make his case for the No.-2 spot.

"(Reynolds is) a great running back and I'm not expecting to take his reps, but maybe if the reps were more designed for me, that would be great," Cornish said. "So I'm looking forward to sharing the field with him."

It's a far cry from a year ago.

Cornish arrived with an impressive post-secondary resume, including a Kansas University record with 1,457 rushing yards in his senior year, but knew he had to pay his dues.

He had only one official carry -- a second came on a lateral -- for 30 yards in the 2007 season, when he was used mainly on special teams.

This season, he's hoping to be given the rock more often. Much more often.

"I approached last season knowing I wasn't going to get an opportunity to play too much and focusing on special teams," Cornish said. "For this time, I worked really hard on my offensive game, my hands, my speed, my strength, so I can actually get on the field at running back this year.

"There's a little bit of anticipation for me because I'm excited to play my position once again."

In training camp, Cornish has had plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills.

Fellow running back hopeful Ken Simonton has been sidelined most of camp due to a hamstring injury suffered in the off-season, while Demetris Summers hasn't partaken in drills the past few days.

That's left Cornish and Reynolds to carry the ball from the tailback position time and time again. It's not game action, but just as important for the 6-ft., 205-lb. runner.

"I'm getting the ball in my hands, getting thrown to more and I'm really enjoying the opportunity to really do some routes, maybe shake some guys," said Cornish, who added 15 pounds thanks to his off-season workouts.

"Those are the things I have to do to show what I'm capable of.

"I understood where I was (when I arrived) and had to improve certain facets of my game. But, at the same time, I came in knowing I can play running back in this league and enjoy a long career at it."

A career he hopes goes beyond the usual for Canadian running backs.

In CFL, star Canuck ball carriers have been few and far between, often relegated to backup roles behind American counterparts.

Even with the likes of Jesse Lumsden proving you don't have to hail from south of the border to put up numbers on the ground, that stigma of being a Canadian running back hasn't completely disappeared.

"I think it still exists. I had to battle it when I was down in Kansas," Cornish said.

"I feel it's not really holding me back but is something in the back of people's heads, so I'm working to really change that. Jesse in Hamilton is doing his thing, so I'm hoping to do my thing here."


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