One year ago today, James Conner was in disbelief. He had found out he had won the ACC's Player of the Year award, the top honor for a football player in his conference. Up against so many great players, including his own teammates, the sophomore running back was stunned to be recognized.
A lot has changed in the year since. First, Conner tore his MCL in the opening game of the season, forcing him to miss the rest of 2015. Then he got much worse news: A doctor diagnosed him with Hodgkins lymphoma.
"When I heard those words -- 'You have cancer' -- I admit I was scared," Conner said in a press release from Pittsburgh Athletics. "But after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that fear is a choice. I choose to not fear cancer. I choose to fight it and I will win.
"Now one year later, instead of asking, 'Why me?' I am saying, 'Why not me?' I can beat cancer."
Conner first announced the news in a press conference attended by himself, his mother, and Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi. Narduzzi noted that while he hasn't known Conner for very long -- this is first year as head coach of the Panthers -- he is well aware of the strong character that will carry Conner through this ordeal.
Narduzzi also pledged his support to the junior.
"Know this: James Conner will not face this challenge alone. We are all going to be right beside him every step of the way,"Narduzzi said. "And the day that he is declared cancer free, we will all celebrate like we do after one of his patented touchdown runs. James has never backed down from an opponent and we all know this is a battle he will win."
Conner learned about his diagnosis on Thanksgiving morning. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he will begin chemotherapy on Tuesday and receive treatments every two weeks for a six-month period. His cancer has been categorized as "stage 2A," with the typical cure rate for that condition between 85 percent and 95 percent.
Conner vowed not only to fight and beat cancer, but to return to the football field. His doctor is also optimistic, believing he could make his return as early as next season.
That's all the more motivation for Conner.
"I will play football again. I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back."
Shortly after his announcement, ACC Championship Game coaches Dabo Swinney of Clemson and Larry Fedora of North Carolina sent short video messages to Conner:
Here's hoping for a quick recovery, and a triumphant return to the football field.