Newsmaker of the Year: Jon Cornish

New Westminster
New Westminster's Jon Cornish returns to his old high school stomping grounds at St. Thomas More, where he embarked on a football career that's taken him to the University of Kansas and now the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL, where he was the league's best Canadian this past season.

Jon Cornish has had his fair share of breakout years but 2012 was his best yet.

It paled in comparison to previous ones, and was so good he not only blew away Canadian Football League defenders, he blew away the competition in being named New Westminster NewsLeader Newsmaker of the Year.

In 2001, Cornish took B.C. high school football by storm racking up the yards (2,136 yards rushing) and rumbling over his opponents in his senior season with the St. Thomas More Knights, which won two provincial titles with Cornish in the backfield.

His play propelled him to a scholarship with the University of Kansas Jayhawks, where after a redshirt (training) season he saw limited playing time to begin with. But in his final year, 2006, he busted out big time, setting a single-season school rushing record with 1,467 yards. What makes that fact even more impressive is the Jayhawk running backs that came before him: The list includes two pro football hall of famers, John Riggins and Gale Sayers.

From there he joined the Calgary Stampeders, at first playing on special teams and serving as a backup to American Joffrey Reynolds. Cornish eventually wrestled the starting position from Reynolds, and in 2012 he proved the doubters wrong.

What did they doubt? Well, there has been a long-held belief Canadians aren’t capable of being star running backs in the CFL.

Cornish and B.C. Lions running back Andrew Harris, a native of Winnipeg, blew that myth to smithereens in 2012.

Just like he did in 2006, Cornish rushed for 1,467 yards to set a record for Canadian running backs that former Edmonton Eskimos rusher Normie Kwong had held for 56 years. It was also the first time a Canadian had been the CFL rushing leader since Orville Lee of the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1988.

Cornish did it by running over and through opposing tacklers. He scored 11 touchdowns in the process as the Stampeders made it all the way to the Grey Cup.

His play made him a big story on the national stage, and he brought his hometown along with him. During every Stampeders game on TSN the broadcasters would note he was a New Westminster native at least once. His on-field exploits earned him the honour of being named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian, and he was a runner-up for the league’s Most Outstanding Player award.

Off the field, Cornish’s personality also captured the country, although not always in a positive way.

His so-called Moon over Mosaic episode gained him almost as much national notoriety as his power runs through opposing defensive linemen and linebackers. Cornish was having a bad day at the office during a September game at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field. The Saskatchewan Roughriders fans were taunting him unmercifully. Cornish responded by pulling down his pants and mooning them.

The next day, however, he was profusely apologizing for his actions to head coach John Hufnagel, his teammates, the Stampeders organization and the Saskatchewan fans.

“It was a bad call on my part. It was an extreme lack of judgment,” Cornish said at the time.

Along with such accountability, his reputation was more than revived during Grey Cup week. Already known for being socially aware, and for his community work, Cornish talked openly with the national media about how his mother, Margaret, an Anglican priest, had told him on one of his Christmas breaks during his university days that she was a lesbian.

He impressed reporters by telling them it took him mere seconds to accept this fact, and then said he’d like to see more acceptance of gays in society.

Just six days after the Grey Cup, Cornish proved that although you can take the boy out of New Westminster you can’t take New Westminster out of the boy by being the marshal for the city’s Christmas parade down Columbia Street.

Returning to his roots was a fitting way to close out a spectacular 2012 for the city’s hometown hero.

It would be quite the feat if he could top 2012, because he’s certainly set the bar high.

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