All of us have faced some sort of adversity in our sport, but with guarantee we can say that very few of us have gone through what James Conner did during his time at the University of Pittsburgh.
Conner was on top of the world. He, as an underclassman, was dominating college football. In 2013, as a freshman, he set his school’s all-time record for rushing yards in a bowl game. Then in his sophomore year, he was named the ACC player of the year and was even in contention to win the Heisman Trophy. It looked like James was going to be headed to the NFL following his 2015 season. Things began to quickly go downhill though. In the first game of his junior season, Conner was tackled and tore his MCL. The doctors informed him that he would not be able to play for the rest of the year. Conner did not let that deter him though. He began rehab immediately following his surgery.
About three months into his rehabilitation, James felt that something was off. Something that didn’t have to do with his knee. He was evaluated by doctors, and they concluded that there was a very large growth in his chest. He had cancer. How did Conner react to this new adversity though? Exactly how he reacted the last time he was dealt a bad hand. He brought all of the determination and grit he had to the table – regardless of the situation. He knew he had 8 months to rebuild his knee and to beat cancer now. If he wanted to play the 2016 season, he would need to get straight to work. He did. During his chemotherapy, James still went to team practices and also rehabbed his knee. He refused to let his cancer or his injury interfere with his dreams. He was on the path to recovery.
On May 23rd, 2016, James received a call informing him that he had beaten the cancer. He knew at that moment that he would be able to play football again. As it turned out, he ended up doing much more than just playing football – he went right back to dominating. In 13 games, Conner amassed 1,394 yards and 20 touchdowns. NFL scouts were shocked to see his perseverance paying off so quickly. Given the success of his season, Conner opted to enter the draft that year.
He ended up being picked in the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since then, Conner has emerged as a serious talent in the world of professional football. Last year he had the 11th most rushing yards in the NFL, and he did it with three less games than most of the guys in the top 10. This upcoming season James looks to have another great year and write another chapter in his amazing story. He sets a great example for athletes everywhere. The drive he possesses can and should be emulated by every athlete in the world. If someone dedicates themself to working that hard and never giving up, the sky is the limit.