James knew his star was on the rise after the University of Pittsburgh running back earned ACC Player of the Year honors in 2014, rushing for nearly 1,800 yards and 26 touchdowns that year. Then came 2015 – a year that changed Conner as a person. First, he suffered a serious knee injury in the first half of the season opener and, less than three months later, was diagnosed with Hodgkins’ lymphoma.

Very few can understand the long odds, work ethic and grind it took for James to return to the field for Panthers in 2016 to rush for more than 1,000 yards as a team captain. Yet through it all, James never stopped thinking of others or looking for ways to help and inspire others. The fabric of James the person was on display for all to see. His knee injury started James down a path that would create a whole new prism of life that was unexpected.

James won the Disney Spirit Award following the 2016 season and after declaring early for the NFL, the native of Erie was drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft by his hometown team – the Pittsburgh Steelers.