Cornish and Harris Lead New Canadian Class in the CFL

Dale Perth | Updated Nov 05, 2012

Running back Jon Cornish of the Calgary Stampeders is shown in October 2012.

With the Canadian Football League preparing for the playoffs, it’s time to look at the state of the game — especially from the perspective of homegrown players. If the nominees for top Canadian are anything to go by, the game is in good hands. Tailbacks Jon Cornish of the Calgary Stampeders and Andrew Harris of the B.C. Lions are arguably the most prominent names for Top Canadian recognition at the CFL Awards.

Cornish and Harris have had a memorable 2012, becoming the first Canadian duo to each rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. The last time that happened was 56 years ago: the “China Clipper,” running back Normie Kwong of the Edmonton Eskimos, along with Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Gerry James also achieved the feat in in 1956. Cornish also finished the season as the CFL’s top rusher with 1,457 yards, the first time a Canadian has won the title since Orville Lee racked up 1,075 yards after being drafted first overall by the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1988. Lee has been following Cornish’s successes.

A native of New Westminster, B.C., the 28-year-old Cornish went to school at the University of Kansas, where he also set the Jayhawks’ single-season rushing mark (1,467 yards). His exploits at Kansas saw him named Team Offensive MVP in his junior and senior years. Subsequently he was drafted 13th overall by the Stampeders in 2006, where he took over for Joffrey Reynolds as the feature tailback midway through the 2011 season. Now Cornish has eclipsed Kwong by 20 yards.

Harris finished in third place with 1,1112 yards, the first Lion to break the 1,000-yard mark since Sean Millington in 2000. The 25-year-old Winnipeg native took another path to the pros: instead of playing collegiate football, Harris went to the Canadian Junior Football League and joined the Nanaimo-based Vancouver Island Raiders. He led the team to three Canadian Bowl titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009, and holds the league’s records for most all-time touchdowns and total scoring. As with Cornish, Harris is now the Lions’ feature back. He also has an admirer: none other than Gerry James.

While Cornish and Harris have been duelling for CFL supremacy, the eight players named as candidates are all solid players who should be in the game for a long time to come — certainly as long as they want to be (and as long as circumstances allow). Cornish and Harris are joined in the West nominations by two Quebecers: defensive lineman Ted Laurent of the Edmonton Eskimos and centre Dominic Picard of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Eastern contenders for the award are linebacker Henoc Muamba of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers; punter/placekicker Luca Congi of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats; running back/slotback Andre Durie of the Toronto Argonauts; and Montreal Alouettes linebacker Shea Emry. All are outstanding athletes who show that the league should survive, and thrive, with the next generation of Canadian players.