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22 Days Until Kansas Football: Run It, Back – Jon Cornish

A record-breaking season led to a hall of fame career.

Kansas State v Kansas Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

The Rundown

Years at KU: 2002-2006

Career Stats: 2,245 rushing yards, 17 rushing TDs, 344 receiving yards, 3 receiving TDs

Best Season: 2003; 12 games, 1,457 rushing yards, 194 receiving yards, 9 total TDs

Accolades: 2006 First-Team All Big-12

The first half of what would become a record-breaking career for Jon Cornish featured a total of three carries for eight yards in his first two full seasons (after redshirting in 2002). It was not exactly hitting the ground running like with Clark Green.

Cornish broke through as a junior with 780 yards and nine touchdowns, but it was the way he finished his career that left an impression on the program and paved the way for an incredible professional career.

The back who gained just eight yards halfway through his career rushed for more yards as a senior than anyone had in the history of the program—1,457 yards—to go with eight touchdowns. That’s still the single-season rushing record at Kansas. He left KU No. 10 on the Jayhawks’ all-time rushing list while having the fewest attempts of anyone in the top 10 (387). Along with being the most yards in KU history, Cornish’s 1,457 yards was also tops in the Big 12 in 2006, earning him a spot on the All-Big 12 First Team alongside Adrian Peterson from Oklahoma (wonder what happened to him?).

That season led to Cornish being drafted in the Canadian Football League and then to a hall of fame career (Cornish was inducted in 2019). Just read through the accolades: Most Outstanding Player in 2013, three-time Most Outstanding Canadian, two-time Grey Cup winner with the Calgary Stampeders.

It all started with that senior campaign at Kansas. In the Clark Green article, I mentioned that Green split a lot of time with John Randle, who was kicked off the team before the 2005 season after two years on campus. It’s reasonable to expect Randle would have continued to take a chunk of Cornish’s carries for their final two years. Who knows if Cornish would have had strong enough numbers to get drafted and continue a pro career? I would like to think so, but it’s a big what-if scenario.

Best Game

Nov. 18, 2006 vs Kansas State: 25 carries for 201 yards and 2 TDs, 1 receptions for 4 yards

It was a two-horse race for the best game of Cornish’s collegiate career between this game and the Baylor game in October of 2006 where he rushed for 196 yards and two TDs on 24 carries and two receptions for 10 yards. I went with the KSU game because it was in a 19-point win over what would be a 7-6 Wildcat squad and was the game that made KU bowl eligible.

Cornish’s 205 total yards were more than half of KU’s 355 total yards as he rushed for an efficient eight yards per carry. He ended up finishing a game with at least eight yards per carry four times in 2006 (three of those games against Big 12 opponents) and ended his senior year at 5.8 ypc. Not bad.

Best Anecdote

I’m going to cheat and pick two, one from Cornish’s college days and one from his professional career.

The first was how Cornish made it to Kansas from New Westminster, British Columbia in Canada. The high school competition level wasn’t exactly high, with Mangino comparing it to Kansas 2A high school in a 2006 Lawrence Journal-World article. So Cornish made a highlight video and sent it to a bunch of colleges, including Kansas.

The video caught the eye of assistant Brandon Blaney, but by the time he got up to Canada to visit Cornish, the season was over. Still, Kansas offered and Cornish accepted, without Mangino or the coaching staff watching him actually play in person or against decent competition. I’d say taking a flyer on him worked out.

As for the professional anecdote, it’s a reminder that the CFL does not have the budgets and finances of the NFL. Even as Cornish was winning awards and Grey Cups, he was working a second job as a bank teller, which The MMQB profiled back in 2014.

The article opens with a bank member recognizing Cornish, who worked a few shifts a week. This paragraph sums up the dichotomy of Cornish’s professional lives:

The bank customer who recognized him was wearing Cornish’s Stampeders jersey. Since the Cornish Flakes cereal hit the shelves of the Calgary Co-op in May, he’s been recognized more and more. “Plenty of fans get excited when they see Jon,” says Tony Yu, the bank’s branch manager. “But we value him for his work ethic. He’s great with customers.”