Conner selected to third Doak Walker Award watch list


Pitt RB James Conner made his third straight Doak Walker Award watch list Thursday. Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

Pitt redshirt junior running back James Conner continues to garner recognition during his attempt to return to the field in 2016.

Conner was named Thursday to the Doak Walker Award preseason watch list for the third consecutive year. He was a semifinalist for the award –– given to the best running back in the nation –– as a sophomore in 2014.

After making the watch list as a sophomore in 2014, Conner rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns to earn ACC Player of the Year honors. He was back on the watch list in 2015, but his season was cut short by a torn MCL in the first half of the season opener.

Rather than sit out the rest of the season and declare for the NFL Draft, Conner chose to rehab the knee and try to come back before the end of the season. That’s when everything took a turn for the worse.

While working out, Conner started to experience strange symptoms, like his head was being “pumped with air.” After going in for an X-ray, he was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma Thanksgiving Day.

Over the next 24 weeks, he underwent 12 two-to-four hour chemotherapy treatment sessions at the Hillman Cancer Center.

Less than six months later, Conner announced that the treatments were successful and his body is clean of cancer. According to his doctor, Stanley Marks, he interacted with and inspired many of the other patients during his time at the Hillman.

“It was really beautiful to see what he had created there,” Marks said.

Conner has been giving back to those in need since long before his cancer diagnosis –– a big reason he was one of three Panthers selected to the 2016 Wuerffel Trophy watch list for community service.

The All-American running back was also named to the Maxwell Award preseason watch list July 5.

If he is fully healthy in time for Pitt’s season opener against Villanova Sept. 3, Conner is expected to lead a deep Panthers backfield that also includes last year’s ACC Co-Rookie of the Year, Qadree Ollison.

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