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Archive for Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Keegan: Cornish could be top-tier

August 30, 2006

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Jon Cornish, not one to tire easily, didn't hesitate when asked to name his most tiring job during a football game.

"Punt return," he said of his blocking duties. "Having to control a guy for 15 seconds."

Asked to name his favorite special teams duty, Cornish gave the same answer.

"With Charles Gordon back there last year, there was always the anticipation, every single down, to have a big play," Cornish said. "This year, we have Brian Murph back there. He already returned one for a touchdown, which is something that Charles Gordon never did, so the anticipation will be even greater."

Cornish won't be first-string on the punt return unit because coach Mark Mangino wants to give him a breather. That's good news because Cornish will be needed to carry the ball more often than ever in his life, even high school, when he said blowouts forced him to the bench as a senior, his only year as the featured back. He still will be on the first-team punt coverage, kickoff coverage and kickoff return units.

This season, with an enhanced commitment to blocking, Cornish will get the chance to prove he is among the best running backs in the Big 12, a conference that boasts Jamaal Charles of Texas (7.4 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns in 2005) and Heisman Trophy candidate Adrian Peterson at the top. Texas A&M's Courtney Lewis (6.6 yards per carry in '05) and Iowa State's Stevie Hicks (1,062 yards rushing in 2004) are in the next tier.

Cornish ranked 12th in the Big 12 with 780 rushing yards in '05. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry and rushed for nine touchdowns. His load will increase this year, and it would be an upset if he doesn't produce KU's first 1,000-yard rushing season since June Henley in 1996.

"He's an interesting guy," Mangino said. "He never really gets tired. Then I always ask him: 'Maybe we're not working you hard enough.' But he does work hard. He is a guy, I think he can carry it as much as we need him to. If we need him to carry the ball 35 times, I think he'll do it and hold up pretty well."

A two-time second-team academic All-Big 12 selection, Cornish brought credibility when he said he was happy that classes have started to break up the all-football monotony.

A 6-foot, 205-pound senior from New Westminster, British Columbia, Cornish seldom offers auto-pilot answers during interviews. He thinks about the question before responding, such as when he was asked to compare his blocking skills now from the running back position to two years ago, when he was so far down the depth chart he carried the ball twice and gained 5 yards.

"Compared to two years ago, I've taken huge strides," Cornish said. "Compared to last year, I've really improved. The main thing was how physical I was as a blocker. I've always been able to be a physical runner, but moving that over to being physical as a blocker, I feel this year I've been able to make that transition to being a physical blocker."

The key to making that transition?

"Personal choice," he said. "Saying to myself I need to become a physical blocker, then taking the steps necessary to be able to be one."

Better blocking means more carries, which translates to more touchdowns for Cornish.

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