Pitt running back James Conner to enter NFL Draft
PITTSBURGH (AP) Pittsburgh running back James Conner is heading to the NFL.
Conner announced on his Twitter feed Saturday that he'll turn pro after the Panthers face Penn State in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 28.
The 21-year-old Conner had one year of eligibility remaining after redshirting during the 2015 season following a knee injury and a very public battle with cancer. The 2014 ACC Player of the Year returned this fall and ran for 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns while helping the Panthers to an 8-4 record and the No. 22 spot in the final regular-season poll.
''I have given it everything I got and will do it one more time for my brothers at Pitt,'' Conner tweeted, later adding ''I will be declaring for the 2017 NFL Draft.''
Conner set Atlantic Coast Conference records for career touchdowns (56) and career rushing touchdowns (52) during his three-plus seasons with the Panthers. Though he moonlighted at defensive end early in his career, his 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame turned out to be better suited running through tackles, not trying to make them. He hit his stride as a sophomore in 2014 when he ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns and figured to head to the pros in 2016 despite a torn MCL in his right knee suffered in the 2015 opener against Youngstown State.
That changed in November, 2015 when Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He went through more than five months of draining treatment - though it didn't keep him from joining his teammates for portion of spring drills - and he embraced his role as a cancer survivor, visiting frequently with fellow patients in hopes of becoming a symbol of strength. He was declared cancer-free over the summer and returned to full contact in time for training camp.
He scored in the 2016 opener against Villanova but truly hit his stride over Pitt's final six games, when he went over 100 yards rushing four times and scored 13 total touchdowns, including a 20-yard sprint in the fourth quarter on the road against Clemson that brought Pitt in range to pull off a stirring 43-42 upset.
Conner initially said he would wait until after Pitt's bowl game to make a decision but instead opted to do it a few hours before the Heisman Trophy presentation. It's a ceremony he could have been in position to attend if he opted for one last year with the Panthers. Instead he'll move on while leaving behind a remarkable legacy of perseverance and toughness.
''My main goal, when they talk about somebody who had a positive impact on the University of Pittsburgh, is for them to mention my name,'' Conner said after Pitt's wild victory over Syracuse in the season finale last month.