With the 2010s in the rearview and the 2020s beginning, many have reflected on the past decade and its highlights, especially those in the world of sports. In the spirit of the season, the ACC compiled a list of its own honoring one player from each ACC football program as the best of the 2010s, and James Conner was named Pitt’s Player of the Decade.
Other contenders included Tyler Boyd, Aaron Donald, Ejuan Price and Jordan Whitehead, and heavy consideration was given to Donald. However, according to Jeff Fischel, who put the list together, “this accounts only for years the new members have been in the conference,” so only one of Donald’s seasons counted for the purposes of the end-of-decade honor.
”Aaron Donald or James Conner?” Fischel wrote. “You wouldn’t go wrong either way. Donald’s one season in the ACC was otherworldly, including 28.5 TFLs to lead the nation. But I’m going with Conner, the 2014 ACC Player of the Year. His comeback in 2016 was so remarkable and inspiring, Conner was a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. By the time he was done at Pitt, Conner owned the conference record for career touchdowns.”
While Donald played the best season of his collegiate career in 2013, Conner spent all four years of his Pitt career in the ACC and accrued 4,145 yards and 56 touchdowns despite missing all but one game in 2015. He was also Pitt’s most visible star of the decade, as his fight with cancer and subsequent comeback inspired people all around the country.
After leaving Pitt, Conner was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the 2016 NFL draft, and he became a starter during Le'Veon Bell's holdout. However, after a breakout year in 2018 in which he amassed 1,470 yards from scrimmage and scored 13 touchdowns, he was limited by injuries in 2019.