Fight. That’s all James Conner does is fight. A McDowell High school graduate, Conner has never let anyone tell him he can’t do something. Coming out of high school as a non-recruit, Conner decided his senior year that he would continue his football career at the University of Pittsburgh.
How did this non-recruit end up at the University of Pittsburgh? The summer of his junior year, Conner attended the University of Pittsburgh prospect camp. When he got there, all he did was play his game. His game of blowing past defensemen, sacking the quarterbacks, and recovering any loose ball on the field showcased his hustle, heart, and confidence that day.
That’s only a little bit about the young, talented James Conner. His sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh, James was honored as the 2014 ACC Offensive Player of the Year as well as ACC Player of the Year. Conner’s momentum would only carry into next season, but only one game into the 2015 season, he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, a rare cancer that affects the lymphatic system found in one’s immune system.
Conner was scared, but he was going to fight. And fight he did. Over the course of the year, he would receive chemotherapy in the mornings and then attend practices or workouts in the afternoon. Conner fought and fought with all his heart, and one morning after many chemotherapy treatment sessions, he got a call saying that he was free of Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Conner was relieved, as were his family, friends, teammates, and coaches. He went back to training, but in the spring of 2016, Cathedral Prep student Ian Malesiewski was injured severely during a wrestling match. Ian was taken to the hospital and spent months in the hospital receiving treatment and different medicine to help his body recover. The news about Ian spread and the Erie community, especially the community of Cathedral Prep, came together to pray for Ian.
Getting ready for the 2016 NCAA football season, James Conner had heard the news about Ian. At the time, Ian was staying at the Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital, which isn’t too far from the University of Pittsburgh campus. One day, James appeared in Ian’s hospital room to visit and to see how he was doing. James began to come regularly to visit his friend Ian.
Towards the end of summer into the fall and through the winter, Ian slowly started to heal and is still healing. With the 2016 NCAA football season, James continued to perform for the University of Pittsburgh. James had a big junior season for Pitt, after redshirting in 2015.
On April 28, 2017, James Conner’s dreams were going to become true. In the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected James Conner. James was staying in Pittsburgh, and his friend Ian Malesiewski was there to witness it all. Conner’s family, friends, and the Erie community stood behind James Conner and let him know how proud they were of his success.
A McDowell graduate, a non-recruit, raised in Erie, PA, University of Pittsburgh running-back, Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor, and drafted third round NFL draft pick was now going to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. James Conner is the next big thing in the National Football League. Not only will James be the next big thing in football, but he will continue to make a positive impact on others’ lives around him.
Trent Robison is a former staff writer and a member of the Cathedral Prep Class of 2018.