Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Conner Hits Field Running, with No Limits Panthers Coaches Will See How Fit He Is after Cancer Battle

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Conner Hits Field Running, with No Limits Panthers Coaches Will See How Fit He Is after Cancer Battle

Article excerpt

The struggle James Conner endured to get back to football - the chemotherapy, the radiation and the stinging, lingering uncertainty of being a 20 year old with cancer - always transcended the sport in which he starred.

"It's bigger than football," he would routinely say.

A return to football, though, always was part of the plan. In addition to the support he received from countless others, the thought of returning to the field fully healthy and in time for the beginning of fall training camp kept him motivated and optimistic on days when both motivation and optimism were in short supply.

Monday, fewer than nine months after being first diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, the day and moment he long envisioned finally arrived.

Among the horde of navy blue and white jerseys at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the first day of training camp was Conner's No. 24. Just more than two months after his cancer was deemed to be in remission, the Pitt junior running back was a full participant, taking part in drills without any sort of prescribed limitations from coaches.

"I never had any doubt," Conner said about his treatment process. "I've got a great support staff, from my hometown to all of Pittsburgh. I never fought it alone. I never had any doubt. I might have hit walls. Treatment six, the halfway mark, and treatment 11, when I could see the light but it was getting worse as it went on. There were times when I was down, but I never thought once I wasn't going to play football again or wouldn't live."

Conner's presence at practice was moving and symbolic, it wasn't an entirely new concept. Even while undergoing treatment, Conner was constantly around his teammates and the facilities, participating in winter workouts and spring practice, often with a surgical mask covering his mouth.

"I can't say he ever wasn't out there," coach Pat Narduzzi said. "That's the crazy thing."

While taking first-team reps at running back, Conner looked much like the player he was the last time he played in a game. Outwardly, the only thing that is much different are the inside of his right and left biceps, which are inscribed with tattoos reading "Conner" and "Strong", respectively, the cohesive message that became something of a rallying cry during his fight against cancer. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.