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January 18, 2007

Shrine Game West notes: Coming to America

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MORE: East: Jack of all trades

HOUSTON During a season in which he led the Big 12 in rushing, Kansas running back Jon Cornish proved to be a game-breaker.

Next, he hopes to be a ground-breaker.

The list of Canadians to become starting tailbacks in the NFL is a short one if such a list exists. But Cornish, a native of New Westminster, British Columbia, remains hopeful he can be one of the first, if not the original.

"I don't know any (Canadian) starters," he said after Thursday morning practice. "That's what I want."

Cornish's showing this week in practice for Saturday's East-West Shrine football game may have enhanced his chances. NFL scouts watching from the sidelines at the Houston Texans training center said he has distinguished himself.

"He's looked good this week. He's done a good job," said a scout who was a former NFL running back but asked to remain anonymous. "It's just important that any time you have a chance to make an impression to make sure you make a catch if the ball is thrown to you or whatever.

"Our evaluation based on the way he's played is that he'll have a good opportunity."

That's all Cornish has ever wanted. And he's made the most of it when given an opportunity.

He was offered a scholarship at Kansas only after he sent highlight tapes to his college coaches. A few years later, he rushed for 1,457 yards and eight touchdowns to join Gale Sayers and John Riggins in the group of just five Jayhawks to ever win a conference rushing championship.

But even though he rushed for well over 1,000 yards, some scouts have questioned his speed - particularly his quickness to the hole.

Cornish, though, said he's eager to answer those questions.

"Some guys think I'm slower than I am because they just started watching me this year," he said. "I had some nicks and bruises and that slowed me down."

But that didn't slow him down too much. One pro scouting services lists him as the 84th overall prospect and the sixth running back prospect in the NFL Draft.

Cornish has heard that he's being considered as a possible third rounder, and he hopes to improve that status.

Last year he was selected in the second round of the Canadian Football League draft by the Calgary Stampeders, but he hopes his future is in the NFL.

"I'm thinking NFL for now," Cornish said. "But the CFL is such a great backup option."

Perhaps some day that will be the only backup plan associated with Cornish.

Robison rising: Texas defensive end Brian Robison might have improved his status as much or more than any other player this week. Scouts have been impressed with Robison's agility. Some said he could add enough weight to his 6-foot-3-inch, 270-pound frame to play defensive tackle, if necessary.

Most scouts have projected him as a third round draft choice who could move into the second round.

"I've had a lot of conversations with scouts," Robison said. "They're mainly telling me I'm the type of guy that could make a big impact right off the bat. I'm just happy to have a chance to show my athleticism. Instead of just reading stuff like in our defense (at Texas), I'm just getting in there and playing."

Battle tested: Houston's 6-foot-2-inch, 245-pound Jackie Battle looks to have a future in an NFL backfield. The question is where.

"He's a physical runner," said a scout from an NFL team who asked to remain unidentified. "He's probably a fullback at the pro level."

Scouts have said they thought Battle would be reluctant to move from running back to fullback, but Battle indicated he will do whatever he takes to win a job.

Then, he can try to convince a coach to move him.

Where to play: None of the players on hand know where they will play in the NFL, but at least most know their position. That's more than Iowa State's Austin Flynn can say.

A former Cyclones quarterback, Flynn moved to receiver the last two years. But his best position might be at safety.

Standing out: Washington punter Sean Douglas blasted a kick that covered 70 yards in a practice this week, but his primary highlight was a towering punt that grazed the ceiling of the cavernous Texans indoor training center. Scouts have raved about Baylor cornerback C.J. Wilson, who has shown excellent closing speed and has even better size at 6-feet-1, 196 pounds. Other guys who were mentioned as impressing scouts were Fresno State center Kyle Young, Texas A&M safety Melvin Bullitt and Utah defensive lineman Paul Soliai. Texas running back Selvin Young, who has not returned to practice after leaving two days ago, has a strained quadriceps. Despite the injury, he plans to play in the game on Saturday. A scout said BYU's John Beck was the most polished quarterback here this week, but that Nevada's Jeff Rowe might have the most potential because of arm strength. Texas Tech's Joel Filani and Fresno State's Paul Williams were deep receivers on the West's kickoff return team.

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