Pitt running back James Conner is staying in Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Conner in the third round as the 105th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He is the first Panther to be drafted by the Steelers since defensive back Hank Poteat in 2000.
He was also the first Pitt player to be selected in this year’s draft, ahead of quarterback Nathan Peterman and defensive lineman Ejuan Price. Conner wasn’t expected to go until later in the draft, with NFL.com predicting him as a fifth-to-sixth round pick.
In high school, Conner was recruited as a defensive end, but found better success as a running back when he arrived on Pitt’s campus in fall 2013. In his first year, Conner ran for 799 yards and scored eight touchdowns.
During his sophomore campaign, Conner claimed the ACC Player of the Year award while setting the Pitt record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 26. Heading into the 2015 season, Conner was the expected favorite to win the award for the second time, but things took a turn during Pitt’s opening game against Youngstown State.
Conner tore his MCL in the first half of the contest, an injury which sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Conner received yet another blow in November 2015 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
In between his junior and senior seasons, Conner underwent chemotherapy while working out with the team during spring practices. The running back was officially declared cancer-free May 2016 and returned to the field for his senior season, rushing for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Conner leaves Pitt as the ACC’s all-time leader in touchdowns, tallying 56 over the course of his career. He also ranks second in Pitt history in rushing yards with 3,733, behind NFL Hall-of-Famer Tony Dorsett’s 6,526.
“I don’t think you could script James’ story any better,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said in a statement posted on Twitter. “It’s just incredible. We are so proud of James and thrilled that our neighbors got themselves a world-class person and player.”