Earlier today, Pitt announced a press conference for James Conner without much detail as to what it entailed aside from saying his mother would be with him. Many of us assumed he would be announcing he would be leaving Pitt to pursue his dream in the NFL, and I don't think any single Pitt fan would have blamed him after all he's done both in terms of playing for and representing Pitt. Unfortunately, I think every Pitt fan now wishes that was what the press conference was actually. James announced himself that he would be returning to Pitt, but that he has Stage II Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and would be undergoing treatment for it.
"When I heard those words—‘You have cancer’—I admit I was scared," Conner said. "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.
"I know there are so many people in the world who were told by their doctors this week that they also have cancer. I want them to know that together we can—and will—beat cancer.
"I will play football again. I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back."
Conner mentioned he had signs something was wrong when he felt discomfort when working out, and was told of his diagnosis on Thanksgiving morning. Conner's doctors went on to describe the sickness, saying it has an 85%-95% cure rate. Conner has a mass in his chest, and one in his neck. The stage II part of the diagnosis indicates the disease was found in two sets of lymph nodes. My understanding is he is right in the age range for this disease. Conner is right in that UPMC is one of the very best places he could be to receive treatment for this. Narduzzi offered words of encouragement during the press conference as well.
Cancer started the fight and @JamesConner_ is going to finish it! #ConnerStrong— Pat Narduzzi (@CoachDuzzPittFB) December 4, 2015
Many people know James Conner the player on the field, but off the field Conner is one of Pitt's very best:
But Conner has been an All-American off the field as well. Although sidelined this season due to a knee injury, he was honored this fall as a member of the prestigious Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, a select group of football student-athletes who have made a positive impact on others and their communities.
Conner’s volunteerism includes time with Children’s Hospital, Mel Blount Youth Home, the humanitarian organization World Vision as well as the National Kidney Foundation, which honored him with its 2015 "Small Hands Big Heart" Award. During Conner’s hospital visits, he hands out his used game gloves as souvenirs to young patients.
While the news from the press conference is the worst kind, we know this is something Conner will overcome. As Dave Hale from ESPN put it, Conner is everything college football says it wants to be. He's humble, extremely hard working, a good student, and a fantastic representative for his school and his hometown. It's also evidenced by the outpouring from schools all over in support of James. We know all of Pitt will be behind him in his fight to reach the day he's ruled cancer free. Kick cancer's ass, James.