Pittsburgh running back James Conner, one of the college football season's most inspirational figures, intends to apply for early eligibility into the 2017 NFL Draft.
"I don't know if mere words can adequately express how I feel about James Conner," stated Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi. "His strength, his courage and his kindness have impacted all of us beyond measure. I'm forever grateful for the opportunity to be part of his life these past two years.
"James and I have had many conversations about his dreams and aspirations, both in football and life. We know he will continue to make us proud as he takes this next step to the NFL."
Conner overcame Hodgkin lymphoma over the offseason to return to play for the Panthers. He suffered a torn MCL in Pitt's first game of 2015, ending his season early. Months later, in the course of knee rehab, Conner felt excessive fatigue and other symptoms that led doctors to a chest X-ray revealing Hodgkin lymphoma.
Conner worked out with the Panthers as much as possible during the course of 12 chemotherapy treatments. He also went on the Ellen Degeneres Show for a surprise introduction to Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who overcame the same condition. Conner announced he was cancer-free in May, and returned to the lineup this year to rush for 1,060 yards, 16 touchdowns, and a career-best 20 receptions for 299 yards and four more scores.
College underclassmen face a Jan. 16 deadline to apply for early draft eligibility.
Conner (6-feet-2, 235 pounds) runs through contact more than around it, playing a rugged style that helped him break the ACC record for career rushing touchdowns (52). He has been catching the eye of NFL scouts as far back as his freshman year at Pitt, when one compared him to Green Bay Packers RB Eddie Lacy. The fourth-year junior was named the ACC Player of the Year after the 2014 season, when he rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns.