Pitt RB Conner says he's ready for draft, will play in bowl

PITTSBURGH (AP) James Conner is well aware every running back only has so many carries in his body. And for all he's given to Pittsburgh over the last four years, coming back for one more go around couldn't outweigh the chance to see if he can make it as a pro.

''Running backs already have a short lifespan,'' Conner said Monday. ''Wish I could have done more (at Pitt) to be honest, team wise, better records and stuff. I feel like I'm ready. That's my dream, going to the NFL and I'm just asking for the opportunity.''

The ACC's all-time touchdown leader initially planned on putting off a decision until after Pitt (8-4) meets Northwestern (6-6) in the Pinstripe Bowl next week but opted to announce it earlier this month so he wouldn't be a distraction to the team's 19 seniors. Besides, the 21-year-old already had his mind made up, though that didn't keep coach Pat Narduzzi from making one last plea.

''He didn't want me to leave,'' Conner said on Monday. ''He's saying all the `could bes.'''

Not that Narduzzi put up much of a fight. He's well aware of the path Conner took to get to this point. Conner hoped to make the jump to the NFL last year but a torn MCL in his right knee in the 2015 season opener and a very public battle with Hodgkin lymphoma last winter. Conner underwent months of draining treatment but returned in time for fall practice and gained strength as the season wore on. He finished with 1,060 yards rushing and 20 total touchdowns to push his career total to 56, the most in ACC history .

The 2014 ACC player of the year appeared to get stronger as the season wore on. He topped 100 yards rushing in four of Pitt's final five games, including 132 in an upset of Clemson on Nov. 12. Yet he's still aware he's got plenty to prove between now and the 2017 NFL draft in late April. It's why he had no interest in skipping the Panthers' bowl game, something LSU's Leonard Fournette and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey are doing to avoid risk of injury.

''I just feel like I'm going to take advantage of it really, showing the scouts I'm back to my normal self and that I can compete at a high level after everything I've been through,'' Conner said. ''I'm playing, that's all I know.''

Just where the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Conner goes is up in the air. He said he's been unable to avoid draft projections - most of which have him going in the middle to late rounds.

''I only need one team out of 32 to like my film,'' he said. ''I've got to prepare myself for a good 40-yard dash time. It's up to me how far I get drafted.''

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