Panthers’ running back overcomes cancer, injury to continue standout career
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Pitt running back James Conner has been named the recipient of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2016 Brian Piccolo Award, ACC Commissioner John Swofford announced Thursday.
The Piccolo Award has been given annually since 1970 in memory of the late Brian Piccolo to the "most courageous" football player in the ACC. As a standout running back at Wake Forest, Piccolo was the ACC Athlete of the Year in 1965 and played for the Chicago Bears before his career was cut short when he was stricken with cancer. His courageous fight against that disease was an inspiration to the Bears and the entire football community.
Conner will be recognized as the 2016 Brian Piccolo Award recipient during the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game, which is set for this Saturday evening at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium.
Conner was named the ACC Player of the Year following a stellar sophomore season in 2014, when he rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns en route to earning first-team All-America honors. But a knee injury in the opening game ended his 2015 season, and the Erie, Pennsylvania, native was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma a few months later.
Six months of grueling chemotherapy followed, but Conner persevered while continuing to rehab his injured knee. Declared cancer free last spring, Conner returned to the playing field this fall to again rank among college football’s elite as a dual-threat runner who has broken the ACC record for career touchdowns (56). The redshirt junior earned first-team All-ACC honors after he finished the 2016 regular season fifth among league rushers with 1,060 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.
“During the past year, James Conner has touched so many lives beyond the football field,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Yes, he is an exceptional player. But, more importantly, he is an outstanding person who has used his adversity to spread a message of hope and inspiration.
“Twelve months ago, he was just beginning his fight against cancer. Today, he not only has won that battle, but he also is an All-ACC running back and 1,000-yard rusher. He has an unbreakable spirit that is simply incredible. I have no doubt that Brian Piccolo would be proud that James is the recipient of this very important award.”
Conner has also been honored with the 2016 Disney Sports Spirit Award, given annually to college football’s most inspirational figure. He becomes the first Pitt student-athlete to claim the Brian Piccolo Award since the Panthers joined the ACC prior to the 2013 season.