James Conner says he was “60 percent” entering 2016 season

Getty Images

One of the more compelling 2107 NFL draft prospects played in Pittsburgh. Known widely as the man who overcame cancer to return to college football, former Panthers running back James Conner is a lot more than that. In an open letter to NFL General Managers posted at ThePlayersTribune.com, Conner makes it clear that he was a lot less than where he needed to be when his final college campaign began.

I was probably at about 60% going into last season,” Conner writes. “Now, I definitely got stronger and better with each game. But, yeah, that’s just real talk. Sixty percent. If that.”

He explains that he returned to workouts well before he should have, participating with teammates despite having a mask on his face and a port in his chest.

Conner says he felt normal by the time the fifth game of the season arrived. By the tenth game against Clemson, Conner knew he was all the way back.

His letter tells a story that should be regarded as interesting for reasons well beyond his cancer battle. And it’s clear that he has high aspirations.

“I don’t set little goals,” Conner says. “I mean, I’m trying to be in the Hall of Fame one day. That’s where I’m looking to take this. That’s where my head’s at.”

Teams struggle to get a glimpse into a player’s heart and mind, curious as to how he’ll handle fame, money, and adversity at the next level. James Conner comes off as a guy who has worked hard for everything he has gotten, and who has overcome the kind of adversity no one ever wants to face. Wherever his ceiling is at the next level, it’s safe to say he’ll do everything in his power to get there.

It’s also safe to say that having a player like that in the locker room will help inspire teammates who may be inclined to whine and complain about inconveniences far more trivial than fighting through, and beating, a life-threatening illness.

“I like that guy,” Florio Jr. recently said of Conner, which is a tough thing for any West Virginian to admit when it comes to a guy who played for Pitt. If Conner can win fans on the other side of the Backyard Brawl, he surely already has plenty of fans in front offices throughout the league.