James Conner took an opportunity and ran with it. When former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell held out for a season due to a contract dispute, Conner got the call to be the main man. All Conner did was make the Pro Bowl. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has been impressed with Conner and said the fourth-year running back out of Pittsburgh would be the “bell cow” this season. Conner appears ready to answer the call.
James Conner’s football career
At the University of Pittsburgh, James Conner had a monster sophomore season as a running back for the Panthers. The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder rushed for 1,765 yards and an ACC-record 26 touchdowns. Conner was named ACC Player of the Year.
Conner was limited to one game during his junior year after he tore his MCL in the season opener. He bounced back with a year in 2016 when he rushed for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns. He declared for the NFL draft and was taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round.
Conner had just 32 rushing attempts in his rookie season, but when Le’Veon Bell held out in 2018, Conner stepped in and rushed for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns in 13 games. He also had 55 receptions for 497 yards and made the Pro Bowl. Last year, injuries limited him to 10 games, and he had 464 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
James Conner’s cancer scare
When James Conner tore his MCL at the University of Pittsburgh in the 2015 season opener, he was ruled out for the season. While rehabbing, he would have a shortness of breath and it was revealed he had tumors in his chest. According to USA Today, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma on Thanksgiving of 2015.
“When I heard those words — ‘You have cancer’ — I admit I was scared,” Conner, 20, said in a statement, according to USA Today. “But after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that fear is a choice. I choose to not fear cancer. I choose to fight it, and I will win.”
Conner rebounded well after his treatment and resumed his football career. In his first game back in 2016, he scored a rushing touchdown and added his first career touchdown reception. He went on to rack up 20 touchdowns (16 rushing, 4 receiving) before declaring for the NFL draft.
Conner responds to Mike Tomlin’s ‘bell cow’ comment
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had always preferred one back to shoulder the workload. He said 2020 wouldn’t be any different. Tomlin also said Conner is expected to be that guy.
“There is no question about who our bell cow is,” Tomlin said Tuesday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Our bell cow is James Conner, and he is our primary ball-toter.”
Conner said he is up for the challenge. “I’m built for it,” he said, according to Steelers reporter Missi Matthews. “Monday night will be a good time. It will be exciting to get back out there with this team and put together something special.”