PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — It was the moment of a lifetime for James Conner.
Friends and family in Erie celebrated as the western Pa. boy was drafted to join the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Conner’s story is an inspiration – fighting cancer, practicing while wearing a surgical mask, and ultimately winning his fight.
But Conner says he is much more than the guy who beat cancer. Joining the Steelers is another step in his journey.
The next time we see Conner running through Heinz Field, he will be wearing black and gold and punishing defenders.
Friday night, Conner watched the NFL Draft with family and friends in Erie, hoping to hear from a team. Finally, his number was called in the third round by none other than his former next-door neighbor.
“It’s a lot of waiting, really, just a lot of waiting. But now, that hard work paid off, so I’m excited and can’t wait to get to work,” Conner said.
Conner was ACC Player of the Year in 2014 and finished second in rushing all-time at the school, behind only Tony Dorsett.
He overcame a knee injury and got worldwide attention when he defeated Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Now, he’s cancer-free – and he’s a Steeler.
“That was definitely a divine act,” Pope Yinzer said. “There’s no doubt about that there.”
“I think it’s wonderful,” Steelers fan Raquel Jeanmenne said. “I think all athletes and anybody stricken with any kind of disease disease can see you can overcome it sometimes and your dreams can be met.”
“He’s a great guy,” Steelers fan James Bennett said. “Pittsburgh will embrace him very well, as they already have.”
The Steelers say this was not a sentimental draft pick. Conner is a very good football player who shared their facility.
“I am familiar with Pittsburgh,” he said. “It’s home now. I’m crazy excited to get to work.”
Lots of fans were thrilled when the Steelers chose him, including fan James Lucas.
“I just felt in my gut they were going to pick him,” Lucas said. “We need a running back like that.”
“At least he’s home, he’s here,” fan Daymond Chinn said. “We’re going to root for him like he’s been here forever, backyard football.”
The 6-foot-1-inch, 233-pound Conner will be a back-up and complement to running back Le’Veon Bell.
“Pittsburgh! I’m going to Pittsburgh,” Conner said. “Ready to get to work. Any way they want to use me, they can use me.”