After another record-breaking season, the Calgary Stampeders running back is a decided favourite to capture outstanding player and top Canadian honours Thursday night at the CFL's awards banquet. If the native of New Westminster, B.C., — who was the league's top Canadian last year — is named the outstanding player, he'll become the first Canadian to receive the honour since 1978 and just the third ever.
Former Ottawa tight end Tony Gabriel, 64, of Burlington, Ont., was the CFL's top player in '78. Russ Jackson, 77, of Hamilton, the legendary Rough Riders quarterback was a three-time winner (1963, '66, '69).
The six-foot, 217-pound Cornish ran for a CFL-high 1,813 yards, the most in a season by a Canadian. The 29-year-old also led the league in yards from scrimmage (2,157) and TDs (14) as Calgary (14-4) took first spot in the West Division.
The East Division nominee is veteran quarterback Ricky Ray, who enjoyed a record-setting second season with the Toronto Argonauts. Ray had a CFL-record 77.2 per cent completion average and just two interceptions in 303 pass attempts.
However, Ray played in just 10 regular-season games this year. He missed seven starts due to injury and was a healthy scratch in Toronto's regular-season finale, making the Californian a decided underdog to Cornish in voting by the Football Reporters of Canada and the eight CFL head coaches.
Here's a look at who the other individual winners should be.
The East nominee is Winnipeg linebacker Henoc Muamba, the first player taken in the 2011 CFL draft. The former St. Francis Xavier star was one of a few bright spots with the Bombers (3-15), finishing second overall in tackles (106) while adding 18 special-teams tackles, a sack and interception.
Who should win — Cornish.
Top Defensive Player
Montreal Alouettes linebacker Chip Cox had a league-high (and club record) 115 tackles, club-leading 12 sacks and four interceptions in helping anchor a defensive unit that surrendered a league-low 314 yards per game.
Calgary defensive end Charleston Hughes was a nightmare for CFL quarterbacks, registering a league-high 18 sacks. The Stampeders led the league in sacks (63) and were second in fewest points allowed (22.9 per game).
Who should win — Cox.
Saskatchewan's Brendon LaBatte and Toronto's Jeff Keeping are both first-time finalists. The six-foot-four, 323-pound LaBatte anchored an offensive line that was instrumental in the Riders averaging 128.8 yards rushing per game en route to a Grey Cup berth.
The six-foot-five, 291-pound Keeping centred an Argos front that protected Ray and allowed Toronto to lead the CFL in passing (300.3 yards per game).
Who should win — LaBatte
Top Special-Teams Player
Calgary kicker Rene Paredes led the CFL in scoring with 213 points and made 54-of-57 field goals (league-record 94.7 per cent). The Venezuela native, who grew up in Pierrefonds, Que., also connected on a league-record 39 straight field goals this year.
Marc Beswick, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' six-foot-one, 198-pound cover-team dynamo, had a league-leading 24 special-teams tackles. The 30-year-old Vancouver native has led the East Division-champion Ticats in special-teams tackles the last four seasons.
Who should win — Paredes
A 2013 second-round pick, Brett Jones not only cracked Calgary's offensive line at centre but the six-foot-two, 319-pound native of Weyburn, Sask., was the club's only offensive lineman to dress for every game. The Stamps led the CFL in net offensive yards (383.4 per game), TDs (51), scoring (30.5 points per game) and rushing (141.5 yards per game).
Hamilton running back C.J. Gable led the East Division with 782 rushing yards and averaged six yards a carry while running for seven TDs. The former USC star also had 55 catches for 600 yards and five touchdowns, was fourth in yards from scrimmage (1,382) and eighth in all-purpose yards (1,630).
Who should win — Jones.