Erie native James Conner and his journey to the NFL


Bella Lee, Staff writer

Most natives of Erie are well aware of the local celebrity that is James Conner. A student of McDowell High School, Conner went on to go to college at the University of Pittsburgh before being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the 2017 draft. Now a member of the Arizona Cardinals, the running back shows no signs of slowing down.

In just five seasons with the NFL, Conner has been a beast. He has totaled 3,054 rushing yards and 1,338 receiving yards so far, an impressive feat for a young player. In his rookie season, Conner did not fumble the ball once. He has since only fumbled the ball nine times in his career, contributing to the success of his teams. He has so far spent four seasons with the Steelers and one with the Cardinals, and he just signed a 3-year-deal to remain with the Cardinals on March 14.

While attending McDowell, Conner had a formidable career. As a senior, he rushed for 1,680 yards on 155 carries and 26 touchdowns. He then committed to playing football at Pitt in August 2012. During his freshman season in 2013, Conner was a force to be reckoned with. His extremely successful season was topped off with being named the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl MVP following Pitt’s victory over Bowling Green.

His sophomore year saw him leading the ACC in rushing yards, with 1,765, and was named ACC Player of the Year. Junior year was a bit of a set-back for Conner, as he tore his ACL in the opening game against Youngstown State and was later diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but recovered from both during the off-season. His senior year was also cut short, but because Conner chose to forgo the rest of the year to apply for early eligibility in the 2017 NFL draft.

When Conner was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, he was told he had tumors in his heart and was only given a week to live. Conner got treated with chemotherapy. Although his cancer diagnosis prevented him from playing football, Conner stated the hardest part about fighting the illness was telling his friends and family.

“The hardest part about the whole thing was telling my bros,” Conner said.

“I remember that like it was yesterday. How would they feel if their youngest brother died? I said, ‘I can’t do it. I can’t go.”

Conner was lucky and can now call himself a cancer survivor. He became cancer free in 2016 and returned to Pitt for his senior year.

After battling cancer, Conner has been producing exceptional yards and has made a successful career out of football despite his health induced setbacks. Conner has been a very exciting player these past five years. At the age of just 26, he is not a player you want to mess with. It is undeniable that he will re-main in the NFL for many years to come. All of us in Erie are so excited to see what’s in store for him.