James Conner: From Cancer Diagnosis to Scoring NFL Touchdowns

James Conner: From Cancer Diagnosis to Scoring NFL Touchdowns

James Conner was poised for an amazing year in 2015. Conner, then a running back for the University of Pittsburgh’s football team, had just come off an exceptional season the previous year that culminated with him being named the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Player of the Year.

It did not take long for the talented athlete to live up to high expectations for the 2015 season, as he ran for two touchdowns in the first quarter of Pittsburgh’s opening game of the year. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending torn MCL later in the same game.

While the injury was devastating, it was a minor setback compared to the phone call  james conner received that Thanksgiving. The running back was informed by doctors he had Hodgkin’s Lyphoma, a deadly form of cancer. However, he vowed he would beat the cancer and play football again.

Fast forward to present-day, and Conner is making superstar plays as a second-year player in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers. During the team’s second preseason game Thursday night against the Green Bay Packers, he rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown.

The cancer survivor’s rookie season in the NFL was riddled by injuries, but he has impressed his coaches this year with his improvements on the field.

“I thought he represented himself in a similar way as he has throughout this process,” said the Steelers’ two-time Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Tomlin. “Whether it’s on the practice fields in Latrobe or last week. I’ve been pleased with the progress he’s making and it just needs to continue.”

James Conner is poised to play a major part in the Steelers’ plans this season, especially with the team’s contractual conflicts with its star running back Le’Veon Bell. The ACC’s all-time leading rusher is appreciating the opportunity he has this preseason to show he is worthy of getting more carries in the regular season.

“Every opportunity you have to make the most of it,” Conner said. “We don’t get as many opportunities … these opportunities are limited, so we have to make the most of the opportunities we get. I just control what I can control with the rotation and how it goes. I am just trying to give maximum effort every time I am out there.”

Bell’s future with Pittsburgh is unknown, but Conner is ready to display his skills either as a backup to the All-Pro running back, or even as the team’s starter.

“It’s no secret that when Le’Veon comes back that he’s going to be the starter,” he said. “I have to make sure I know everything and am accountable. If I am in the game, I have to show them that there won’t be any dropoff and just show what I am capable of.”

The Steelers, along with 25 other teams, will kick off their regular season competition on Sep. 9.