The elusive running back was the Calgary Stampeders' selection as outstanding player for a third straight year and top Canadian for the fifth consecutive season Wednesday in first-round voting conducted by the eight CFL head coaches and members of the Football Reporters of Canada. The native of New Westminster, B.C., was the league's outstanding player last year after rushing for 1,813 yards and named the top Canadian for a second straight campaign.
Cornish, who turned 30 on Wednesday, wasn't available for comment. But when asked on Twitter what he thought his chances of winning the award again were, the eight-year veteran had surprising answer.
"Low," Cornish tweeted. "All these other players have put in whole seasons of work.
"Still, very grateful for the nominations!"
Cornish also questioned the validity of his outstanding player nomination.
"The @calgarystampeders were great without me," he tweeted. "I'm thankful for the work they did to make me look like I deserve any nominations.
"I dunno if I should have been nominated. @BoLeviMitchell (Calgary starting quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell) for MOP."
"I appreciate it @jonnycornish but you've gone above and beyond when able to play," Mitchell tweeted in response. "There is only 1 award on our minds! #102."
Injuries limited Cornish to nine games this year but the six-foot, 219-pound running back still leads the CFL in rushing with 1,082 yards and is averaging a sparkling 7.8 yards per carry. Cornish's absence hasn't hurt Calgary, which has a league-best 14-3 record and clinched top spot in the West Division.
Cornish won't play in Calgary's regular-season finale Friday night against the B.C. Lions. If he wins the rushing title — he has a 230-yard lead over Edmonton's John White, who also isn't expected to play this weekend — Cornish will do so in the fewest games since the CFL adopted an 18-game schedule in 1986.
Cornish ran for 100 or more yards in six of his nine games and broke the 150-yard plateau on four occasions, including a season-high 174 yards against Toronto on Sept. 13. He's averaging 120.2 yards rushing per game, compared to the 114.7 yards Hall of Famer Mike Pringle averaged in '98 when he had a league-record 2,065 yards.
The other West Division finalists included Edmonton's Adarius Bowman (CFL receiving leader with 112 catches for 1,456 yards and six TDs), Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman John Chick (league-high 15 sacks), B.C. Lions linebacker Solomon Elimimian (record 137 tackles, five sacks) and Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Drew Willy (No. 2 passer with 3,769 yards).
Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray (4,595 yards, 28 TDs, 68.5 completion percentage — all league highs) tops the list of East Division nominees. The others include Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Zach Collaros (3,054 yards, 14 TDs), Montreal Alouettes receiver Duron Carter (71 catches, 987 yards, six TDs) and Ottawa Redblacks linebacker Jasper Simmons (77 tackles, tied for fourth overall).
Ray and Elimimian were unanimous picks. Traditionally, quarterbacks have dominated this award but this year there were more defensive players nominated (three) than passers (two).
"It's been a strong defensive year," Chick told reporters in Regina. "A lot of guys stepped up and made some big plays and have been consistent with it throughout the year.
"I don't think the league has changed. I think some guys took it to heart to have good off-seasons and there were some great improvements."
Winnipeg kicker Lirim Hajrullahu secured the most nominations with three (Canadian, special-teams player and rookie). Cornish, Simmons (outstanding player, defensive player), Toronto's Chris Van Zeyl and Montreal's Jeff Perrett (both top Canadian and lineman), Elimimian and Chick (both outstanding player, defensive player) and Argos defensive end Tristan Okpalaugo (defensive player, rookie) were all double nominees.
"I am extremely honoured to be selected for the team awards," Hajrullahu said on his Twitter account. "Big thanks to all my specialists for holding, snapping and blocking for me."
The division nominees will be announced Nov. 13 with the CFL awards banquet slated for Nov. 27 in Vancouver.
Joining Cornish as the West Division nominees as top Canadian are B.C. Lions fullback Rolly Lumbala, Hajrullahu (40-of-46 field goal tries, 159 points) and defensive linemen Eddie Steele (six sacks) of Edmonton and Ricky Foley (12 sacks) of Saskatchewan.
Defensive lineman Justin Capicciotti (10 sacks) of Ottawa and Ted Laurent (nine sacks) of Hamilton joined Van Zeyl and Perrett as East Division nominees.
Elimimian was a unanimous nominee as top defensive player, as was Edmonton's Odell Willis (13 sacks, five forced fumbles). Chick, Calgary defensive lineman Shawn Lemon (11 sacks, league-high seven forced fumbles) and Winnipeg defensive back Maurice Leggett (five interceptions, 65 tackles) were also nominated.
Linebackers Simmons, Montreal's Bear Woods (third overall with 80 tackles) and Hamilton's Simoni Lawrence (70 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions) received East Division nominations, as did Okpalaugo (11 sacks).
B.C.'s Jovan Olafioye, the CFL's top lineman in '12, was a West Division nominee for the award, along with Edmonton's Simeon Rottier, Calgary's Brett Jones, Saskatchewan's Dom Picard and Winnipeg's Glenn January. Jones was the league's top rookie last year.
Ottawa's Jon Gott and Hamilton's Brian Simmons, a unanimous pick, joined Van Zeyl and Perrett as the East nominees.
Lions kicker Paul McCallum, the CFL's top special-teams player in 2011, secured a West Division nomination along with Hajrullahu, Edmonton's Deon Lacey (league-high 27 special-teams tackles), Saskatchewan's Tristan Jackson (CFL-best 954 kickoff return yards) and Calgary punter Rob Maver (unanimous selection, 45.5-yard average).
Toronto kicker-punter Swayze Waters (44 field goals, 181 points, 47.7-yard punting average — all league highs) led the East nominees along with Ottawa punter-kicker Brett Maher (24 field goals, 45.5-yard punting average) and Hamilton's Justin Medlock (42 field goals, 170 points, 42-yard punting average).
Edmonton linebacker Dexter McCoil (six interceptions — tied for CFL lead — three TDs) and Hajrullahu head the West Division top rookie nominees. Also named were B.C. defensive back Josh Johnson (42 tackles, two interceptions, four sacks), Calgary receiver Seddrick Cunningham (one of three players this year to score rushing, receiving and kick-return TDs) and Saskatchewan defensive back Mark LeGree.
Okpalaugo and Montreal defensive lineman Gabriel Knapton were unanimous selections in the East Division. They're joined by Ottawa defensive back Antoine Pruneau (66 tackles) and Hamilton linebacker Taylor Reed (60 tackles).