Tuesday, November 22, 2016

James Conner

The Pitt football game against Syracuse this coming Saturday will probably be the final regular season game for Pitt running back James Conner.  Conner is a junior with one season of eligibility remaining, but he will no doubt opt to enter the NFL draft in the Spring and begin his pursuit of a professional career.

Chances are, if you are reading this, you already know Conner's story....leading rusher for Pitt as a freshman in 2013....ACC Player of the Year in 2014....season ending injury in opening game of 2015....diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in November, 2015.....underwent rigorous chemotherapy....returned to play by the season opener in 2016.  So far, he has gained 945 yards on the ground, 254 yards as receiver, and has scored 17 touchdowns in this season.  This past weekend he established an Atlantic Coast Conference record for career rushing TD's and total TD's, and while football in the ACC might not be what football in the Big Ten or SEC is, that league has been playing football for over seventy years, so that is one major accomplishment for Conner.

Yet the football accomplishments are not even half the story for Conner.  His story as a cancer survivor has become an inspirational one for people throughout the country.  And the best part is that James Conner seems to be a genuinely good person and nice kid.  For sure, it has been a pleasure to watch him over the course of his career and, especially, in this, his comeback year.

I pay little attention to and care even less about the Heisman Trophy Award ever since it was co-opted by ESPN and Nissan a decade or so ago.  ESPN decides before the season who the four or five candidates will be for the award and hypes them endlessly and exclusively, so who cares?  However, if the Award wants to really mean what it is supposed to mean, that it should go to a great player who, not incidentally, has great character and is truly inspirational, then James Conner should be awarded that Trophy this year.  Won't happen, but it should, but James Conner won't need a Heisman Trophy to validate what he has meant to Pitt football, and thousands of people across the country who have been inspired by his story.

(And on the subject of Awards, Conner is surely on the short list for Dapper Dan Man of the Year in Pittsburgh this year.)

We will say good-bye to Conner at Heinz field on Saturday.  It will be a bittersweet moment, to be sure.

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