Two years ago, All-American tailback James Conner wasn’t sure he’d ever step foot on a football field again. Now, after beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma and returning to the form that made him one of the NCAA’s most promising young runners, he’s got a clean bill of health heading into the 2017 NFL Draft Combine.
Conner continued the University of Pittsburgh’s tradition of strong running backs after breaking into the team’s tailback rotation as a true freshman and running for nearly 800 yards in his first season of college ball. That set the stage for a breakout 2014, where he earned All-American honors and gashed the Panthers’ competition for 1,765 yards and a whopping 26 touchdowns despite being his team’s only legitimate offensive threat.
He was expected to build off that monster season in 2015 and declare for the NFL draft soon after, but disaster struck. He tore his MCL in the first game of the season, then noticed excessive fatigue during the rehab process. Doctors diagnosed him with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that often attacks the lymph nodes but has a survival rate of 86 percent.
Conner missed the rest of the 2015 season, then underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy treatment before being declared cancer free in May 2016.
That cleared him to return to the Pittsburgh backfield, where he and Quadree Henderson teamed to comprise one of the nation’s most explosive rushing attacks. Conner rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his return and scored 16 touchdowns, establishing himself as a potential mid-round draft pick in the process.
Thursday’s good news will help erase any red flags Conner’s past health problems may have raised. The dynamic young running back proved just how strong he was by beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Now, officially cancer-free for the second straight year, taking on the NFL should be easy.