Jon Cornish has had a sort of knock-around career at KU.
He joined the Jayhawks after a career at St. Thomas More High School in Westminster, British Columbia that saw him rush for 3,200 yards and 49 touchdowns in three seasons. His senior year, Cornish averaged 14.9 yards per carry while rushing for 2,136 yards and 31 touchdowns and recording 89 tackles on defense. For his efforts, Cornish was named the British Columbia Provincial Player of the Year.
His talents saw him recruited by California, Stanford and Oregon on the west coast, with California offering him a scholarship. Nebraska asked the 6-1 200-pounder to apply his 4.47 speed on the track team. But instead, Cornish chose to become a Jayhawk, and the smart money said that he would make a quick impact on a team in need of athletes on both sides of the ball in Mark Mangino’s first season.
But Cornish missed his first year with injuries and was given a medical redshirt. When he came back in 2003, Cornish backed up Clark Green and John Randle, appearing in every game on special teams and ran the ball once for a three-yard gain. That was his role again last year, when he saw action in 10 games as a backup and special teamer. Cornish caught a 12-yard pass and returned a kick against Kansas State, but one could hardly say he was living up to his potential. But in the spring, a light came on.
“I’m really fired up here about Jon Cornish. Jon is finally catching on here, he’s finally maturing,” Mangino said. “Jon is a guy, I’ll be honest with you, he’s a great kid, you guys talk to him, very smart kid, great kid. We had a talk after spring ball, and Jon, I’m not sure how focused or into this he had been, and he realized that it’s time for him to make a contribution or he may never see the field.
“So I had a talk with him in my office and here’s what he said: He said ‘I realize you guys take American football pretty seriously.’” Mangino said. “And I said, ‘I’m glad you caught on, you know, better late than never.’”
Cornish said that it was a matter of growing up.
“When I came down from Canada, I had a … maturity issue,” Cornish said. “Over the past few months, I felt that I’ve really understood that and begun to mature myself, to overcome that.”
So what caused the change? Cornish said that some life-changing events had occurred in the last year that made him rethink his life.
“Certain things have happened to me over the past six months or so that have forced me just to realize my position and see what I had to do on the football team, as well as in real life,” Cornish said. “Really it was just an issue of finding what I had in myself to keep on going. I had a few issues with some family members who got sick with cancer and having to see them go through what they did made me realize that some of my problems aren’t nearly as serious as theirs, and it’s really helped me mature.”
But Cornish doesn’t speak about those family members with sadness. He stays firm, strong and talks as though they have given him purpose. He was switched from running back to linebacker and then back in the spring, and he’s enjoyed being on the field ever since.
“Coming back from linebacker in the spring I really discovered a lot about the running back position that I missed,” Cornish said. “And I really loved being able to run as much as I had in the spring.”
Mangino said the change stands out whenever he’s on the football field, and now, also the way that he works off of it.
“He looks quicker and more explosive than he ever has,” Mangino said. “He has great vision he is one of the best conditioned guys we have, I swear he can run a marathon. He is having a big, big camp to date and I hope he continues that progress -- he could be a factor for us.”
He will likely get plenty of chances to run the ball this year as Clark Green’s backup, and will provide a nice option with his acceleration and pure speed. Heading into the season, at this point in his career, Cornish is just happy for any playing time he can get.
“I’m running the ball well,” Cornish said. “They put me out in the flat and put me out on the swing because I can catch the ball in the field and that really opens up my options. But whatever they want me to do on special teams or offense or even defense, I’d be happy to play.”