PITTSBURGH — Pitt All-America running back James Conner announced today he has been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
“When I heard those words—‘You have cancer’—I admit I was scared,” Conner said. “But after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that fear is a choice. I choose to not fear cancer. I choose to fight it and I will win.
“One year ago today I was asking myself, ‘Why me?’ Why was I the lucky one to be getting the ACC Player of the Year award when I had so many teammates who deserved it as much as me? Now one year later, instead of asking, ‘Why me?’ I am saying, ‘Why not me?’ I can beat cancer.
“I know there are so many people in the world who were told by their doctors this week that they also have cancer. I want them to know that together we can—and will—beat cancer.
“I will play football again. I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back.”
Pitt head football coach Pat Narduzzi said he has no doubt that Conner will triumph over this adversity.
“It has been almost a year since I first met James and I’ve learned many things about him during that time,” Narduzzi said. “Yes, he is a talented football player, but more importantly he is an exceptional person. Being an athlete is just a small fraction of who he is. James cares deeply about others. He is invested in his community and helping people in need.
“Know this: James Conner will not face this challenge alone. We are all going to be right beside him every step of the way. And the day that he is declared cancer free, we will all celebrate like we do after one of his patented touchdown runs. James has never backed down from an opponent and we all know this is a battle he will win.”
A native of Erie, Pa., and graduate of McDowell High School, Conner’s athletic achievements are well documented. As a Pitt sophomore in 2014, he was selected the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year after rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. Conner was named to seven postseason All-America squads, including first-team honors from the AFCA.
But Conner has been an All-American off the field as well. Although sidelined this season due to a knee injury, he was honored this fall as a member of the prestigious Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, a select group of football student-athletes who have made a positive impact on others and their communities.
Conner’s volunteerism includes time with Children’s Hospital, Mel Blount Youth Home, the humanitarian organization World Vision as well as the National Kidney Foundation, which honored him with its 2015 “Small Hands Big Heart” Award. During Conner’s hospital visits, he hands out his used game gloves as souvenirs to young patients.