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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Meditation prepares Stampeders running back Jon Cornish for return to the field

CALGARY - He hasn't carried a ball in a game since June. But when his body was idle, Jon Cornish's mind wasn't.

The Canadian Football League's most outstanding player and leading rusher last season feels he's mentally ready to play Sunday when his Calgary Stampeders are in Ottawa to face the Redblacks.

Concussion symptoms sidelined Cornish for six games and kept him from full practice until this week. Cognitive impairment wasn't one of those symptoms, so the 29-year-old from New Westminster, B.C., trained hard in his head.

"I really focused on visualizing playing while I wasn't playing," Cornish said Friday. "It actually made it easier to come back. I almost feel I'm more part of the game now that I did six weeks ago as funny as that sounds."

Cornish has made meditation part of his life and his training. It's helped him deal with the frustration of not being able to play, but he says it prepared him to return to the field.

"I've been meditating for a long time now, but having that much time to really delve into it and go from what I thought was a novice and now, I'm maybe an intermediate level meditator," Cornish said

"One of the goals I had this year was to get that monk-level status in terms of how open-minded I was and how compassionate I was.

"This experience has been great for that because it allowed me an opportunity to forgive somebody who had done something to me and also seeing how many different factors can influence that one action. It's been really illuminating for me."

Cornish was knocked unconscious by Montreal Alouettes linebacker Kyries Hebert in the fourth quarter of the season-opener June 28. An ambulance was summoned onto the field, but Cornish got up and walked to the clubhouse accompanied by Calgary's medical staff.

Hebert was ejected from the game. The CFL fined him half a game cheque, which is the maximum under the current collective bargaining agreement.

Unable to shake headaches and whiplash, Cornish was placed on the six-game injured list July 23. He says he felt ready to play two weeks ago, but Calgary could afford to take their time with the CFL's marquee player.

Thanks in large part to the defence, the Stampeders have won all but one game during his absence. Calgary is tied for the West Division lead with the Edmonton Eskimos at 6-1.

Calgary's one loss was by a single point to the B.C. Lions on Aug. 9. The Stampeders are 3-0 on the road this season. They beat the Redblacks 38-17 at home in Week 7.

Cornish won a second consecutive rushing title in 2013 with 1,813 yards, which was the fourth-highest in CFL history. He also bettered his own record for most rushing yards by a Canadian.

Cornish led the league and set a new Stampeder record in 2013 with 2,157 yards from scrimmage.

His trampling of franchise and league records slowed this summer because of the enforced hiatus, but Cornish feels he can still accomplish his goals.

"(Numbers), that's never been a factor," Cornish said. "Even last year, I wanted to accomplish a lot, but it was more having to do with the team. This year, having accomplished a lot, I don't really have any reason to set any numbers.

"Absolutely if I played every game, good things would happen, but I think every game I play good things will happen."

The tailback's return can bolster an offence that's effective, but inconsistent. Calgary ranks fourth in total points and fifth in ball possession, but first in average points per game in the CFL.

The Stampeders will play their first game in Ottawa since 2005 when they lost 33-18 loss to the Renegades at Frank Clair Stadium. Slotback Nik Lewis and long-snapper Randy Chevrier are the two current Stampeders who played in that game.

The combination of ankle rehabilitation and ratio issues kept the 32-year-old Lewis out of Calgary's last three games. Lewis holds the franchise record for consecutive games with at least one reception at 166.

Canadian running back Matt Walters also returned to the field this week following concussion issues. Receiver Jeff Fuller (shoulder) is out and Maurice Price (hand) is not yet ready to return, so Lewis is expected to get reps in Ottawa.

"I'm happy to be back and going back to Ottawa and playing a game," Lewis said. "I've always prided myself on playing as much as I could.

"It's frustrating when you can't go out and do what you know you can do in your mind. When you can't do it physically, it's frustrating. I'm glad I'm not at that point any more."

With kick returner-running back Jock Sanders still sidelined with an undisclosed injury, Sederrik Cunningham will see double duty. He had 120 return yards on four carries in Saturday's 30-20 win in Hamilton.

"Sederrik did a great job for us last week in the return game," Stampeder head coach John Hufnagel said. "Now he'll have a little bit more responsibility by being a receiver."

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