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December 12, 2016

Thank You James Conner

Filed under: Football,Honors,Players — Justin @ 10:08 am
Atlanta, GA - December 8, 2016 - College Football Hall of Fame: Portrait of College Football Awards winner of the Disney Spirit Award, James Conner of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers (Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

Atlanta, GA – December 8, 2016 – College Football Hall of Fame: Portrait of College Football Awards winner of the Disney Spirit Award, James Conner of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers
(Photo by Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

The news hit me twice in about thirty seconds. When James Conner announced to the world a little over a year ago that he had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I had the unfortunate pleasure of learning twice. Pitt put up a feed online for fans to watch but there was a lag. So while I scrolled on twitter waiting for the press conference to begin, I saw it.

“James Conner announces he has been diagnosed with cancer.”

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November 29, 2016

On the heels of breaking into the AP Top 25 at #24, Pitt players and a coach picked up some nice accolades.

In something that has become a regular occurrence, Quadree Henderson picked up his 5th ACC Specialist of the Week honor (yes, it is really called “specialist”).

He earned his latest award by compiling a career-high 257 all-purpose yards against the Orange, averaging an incredible 21.4 yards per touch.

Henderson averaged 18.7 yards on three punt returns (56 yards), 24.5 on four kickoffs (98 yards) and an incredible 20.6 on five rushes (103 yards). He had a 66-yard touchdown burst off a jet sweep to give Pitt a 49-21 lead in the third quarter.

Henderson’s (Wilmington, Del./Alexis I. du Pont) performance helped the Panthers achieve their highest single-game point total since 1977. His five Specialist of the Week awards are the most by an ACC player this season. He was previously honored for his performances in the Penn State, Virginia, Miami and Duke contests.

A highly viable All-America candidate, Henderson has four returns for touchdowns this season, including a nation-leading three on kickoffs. He ranks second in the country in combined kick return yards (1,121), fifth in kickoff return average (31.1) and 11th in all-purpose yards per game (159.75).

I’m assuming the ACC has a Specialist of the Year honor, which Henderson is a shoe-in to get. Along with 1st Team All-ACC recognition.

Speaking of which

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November 22, 2016

The line on this game started at Pit -23.5. It has since risen to -24.5. I wonder how much of it is confidence in Pitt versus a lack of confidence in Syracuse.

Normally the Syracuse-Pitt “rivalry” game is a time for us to make fun of the ACC for declaring this the rivalry game. Point out how neither side really views the other with deep hate in football. That the series tends to shift one-sidedly for quite a while — and right now it is on Pitt’s side.

That’s still all true. But, at least the ACC went and moved it to the end of the season when there is a chance the game could means something in terms of wins and losses.

With that in mind, it isn’t a game that should produce the usual apathy and “meh” commentary. This is a game that could get Pitt to 8 regular season wins. Another nice step in year two under Pat Narduzzi, considering the strength of schedule took a noticeable jump compared to last year (and, yes, the frustrating closeness of some losses (and wins)).

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August 31, 2016

The two topics covered in the news regarding Pitt.

This has to be one of the best parts of being a head coach. Getting to reward walk-ons with scholarships. These are kids that either took a chance on themselves or needed to be at the school because of family or some deep desire for that particular school. They earned the scholarship for the work they have done since coming into the program.

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March 30, 2016

Conner Opens With Pirates

Filed under: Football,Honors,Players — Chas @ 10:24 am

This is pretty damn cool. The Pittsburgh Pirates open the season on Saturday, April 3.

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September 9, 2015

Familiar names on the Zips team. No, not just Tra’von Chapman. One of their wide receivers has a very familiar name and has made an impression.

Passing wasn’t going to come easy to the Zips offense against the Sooners.

However, what little bit of promise displayed in that area came from the performance of Jerome Lane Jr. The former Firestone High School standout, caught three passes for 57 yards, including a long reception of 42 yards. However, coach Terry Bowden pumped the brakes on praising Lane just yet.

“If Jerome Lane would stay focused and learn his assignments and do the little things, he could be good at any one position on either side of the ball,” Bowden said.

It might also help if the coaching staff settled on where they want to use him. Last year, Lane was playing linebacker for the Zips. It doesn’t seem likely he will go back to the defense given the issues for Akron in the passing game. Akron quarterbacks completed only 6 passes for 88 yards the entire game (Chapman was 0-8).

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September 1, 2015

The Peripherals

Filed under: Athletic Department,Football,Honors — Chas @ 7:00 am

Great. Now all my gear is retro/throwback and my throwbacks are now modern. So, the script is officially going to come back for all Pitt athletics.

The goal is to have a roll-out for new apparel this spring, and have all of Pitt’s athletic teams in new script uniforms for the 2016-17 school year. The school’s colors will remain navy blue and gold.

“When that Pitt script is showing, we want people all over the country to understand that’s the University of Pittsburgh,” Barnes said.

Barnes admitted that this rebranding process was a bit different than the one he undertook as athletic director at Utah State in 2012, which was a 15-month effort that involved countless meetings and focus groups. Because the script logo was added back to the helmets last season, Barnes had to work a bit quicker and more anecdotally here, but he thought the answer was pretty obvious.

“That brand is a no-brainer, I would say, to our alumni base and our constituent base,” Barnes said. “It didn’t take long at all because I heard it every day in emails and on Twitter.”

Former athletic director Steve Pederson returned the beloved Pitt script logo to the football team’s helmets in October, but the roll-out was hurried and poorly executed.

The script logo was on the helmets, but the rest of the signage, apparel and media had the old arching block “Pitt,” the athletic department’s primary logo since 2005. The plan at the time was to keep the script logo for football, but maintain the block logo for all other sports.

“If you could ever be half-pregnant, we were,” Barnes said.

As if Barnes couldn’t endear himself to the Pitt fans early, an extra shot at former AD Peterson to boot.

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August 20, 2015

Pitt Produces Legends

Filed under: Football,History,Honors — Chas @ 12:06 pm

The Football Writers Association of America has been around for 75 years. They have been picking All-Americans since 1944. To honor their own existence they released their 75th Anniversary All-American Team.

A few Pitt players made the list.

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July 16, 2015

Conner on Doak Walker list

Filed under: Football,Honors,Media,Players — Reed @ 10:44 am

PITT’S CONNER NAMED PRESEASON DOAK WALKER AWARD CANDIDATE
The junior tailback has earned plenty of preseason praise.
                                                                                           

PITTSBURGH—Pitt junior tailback James Conner received yet another preseason accolade today with his inclusion on the watch list for the prestigious Doak Walker Award, annually presented to the nation’s top running back by the PwC SMU Athletic Forum.

This is the third award to name Conner (Erie, Pa./McDowell) to its watch list. He additionally is a preseason candidate for the Maxwell Award, which honors the college player of the year, and the Wuerffel Trophy, given to the player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.

The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Conner additionally has been named a preseason All-American by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele.

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July 15, 2015

July 15, 2015

PITTSBURGH—Three Pitt football players—offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty, running back James Conner and quarterback Chad Voytik—were named to the watch list for the Wuerffel Trophy, known as “College Football’s Premier Award for Community Service.”

Named after former Florida Gators and NFL quarterback Danny Wuerffel, the Wuerffel Trophy is awarded to the Bowl Subdivision player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.

In addition to being football standouts for the Panthers, Bisnowaty, Conner and Voytik rank among Pitt’s most active student-athletes when it comes to community service.

Bisnowaty (Pittsburgh, Pa./Fox Chapel), a junior offensive tackle, enters his third season as a starter and is a preseason candidate for the Rotary Lombardi Award (nation’s top lineman or linebacker). He is a two-time ACC All-Academic Football Team selection and also serves as vice president of Pitt’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).

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If it’s possible for a press release to downplay something positive, I think this one qualifies.

Mike Young was chosen to be the student-athlete repesentative on the NCAA D1 Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee. What is the Oversight Committee?

The Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee will ensure that appropriate oversight of men’s basketball is maintained, will enhance the development and public perception of the sport and make recommendations related to regular-season and postseason men’s basketball. The committee will prioritize enhancement of the student-athlete educational experience (academically and athletically), and in doing so, promote student-athletes’ personal growth and leadership development.

The Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee will supervise qualifications and/or selection procedures for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. The committee will review recommendations from the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and process other issues related to the administration of the championship. The committee will assume many of the duties of the former NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Issues Committee and will provide direction to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Rules Committee regarding playing rules. The committee will be comprised of representatives from each divisional subgroup.

The OC is made up of 12 members and an additional 4 non-voting members.

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June 18, 2015

(Note: I am drafting a series that look at the leading players on each of the positions PITT will field this season.  I am doing the RBs now but as I was writing I got side tracked by the referenced article on James Conner’s good works.  Here is a compendium look at what he’s done in that area since he’s been at PITT.)

The Trib has a June 18th article by Jerry DiPaola regarding James Conner and his relationship with an ill six year old with Klippel-Feil Syndrome which necessitates multiple open heart surgeries….

Before the game, Conner told Roman Pfister, who was recovering from his third open heart surgery, that he would score a touchdown for him.

Conner — like Roman, a resident of Erie — did score, tying Tony Dorsett’s all-time Pitt record. Then, after getting hurt, he sent an autographed football and his game-worn gloves to the Heinz Field box where Roman was watching the game with two of Conner’s injured teammates, Artie Rowell and Adam Bisnowaty.

“He wanted Roman to know these are special hands for securing the football,” Roman’s mother Tiffani Wasiela said. “He wanted him to know that he cared about him. Roman went home and fell asleep with those gloves on, holding that football.”

An interesting bit in that article involves Conner and a hand baked cake…

Wasiela (Roman’s mother), who owns a pastry shop in Erie, baked a cake for the occasion. Conner declined, sticking to his offseason diet that has helped him lose about 15 pounds to 235. “I was very thankful for it,” Conner said, “but I didn’t have any.” Said Wasiela: “When he is ready to eat some cake, we are going to get him some cake.”  

Dammit’ to Hell!! Get that man some pastries!!  Apparently Conner can have his cake and eat it too at a later date. Here is one from that bakery James might like.

Conner Cake

So, he’s dropping 15 pounds for the 2015 season.  What the Hell?  He wasn’t effective enough last year at 250 pounds when he gained 1765 yards, scored 26 TDs and sent multiple opponents back to their bench crying their eyes out? Is this what Chaney means by tweaking the offense?

It is a good article and it lays out just one in a long line of selfless things Conner has done since he’s became a Panther back in 2012.

Back in March DiPaola also wrote this early account of Conner’s helping others. After finding the father of his best friend fallen ill with the results of kidney disease and helping the man to the hospital, Conner has since devoted his time and energy to the National Kidney Foundation and to those who suffer from that disease.  From the Trib again:

When James Conner and his best friend Sean Gallagher walked into Gallagher’s house one day, they were horrified by what they saw.

Gallagher’s father Michael, who suffers from kidney disease, was laying on the floor, bleeding from his mouth and nose.  The Erie McDowell football players fought the urge to panic, gathered Michael in their arms and carried him to the car. With Sean behind the wheel, they drove his father to a hospital emergency room.

The boys were 15.

He had been close to that family for a long time and when the Gallagher’s daughter, Megan was afflicted with the same illness he kept on serving:

Conner has shown support for Gallagher’s daughter, Meghan, another kidney patient. When Meghan was hospitalized, he visited her frequently, once carrying Meghan to a window so she could see the sun set over Lake Erie.

“He has seen all that and been around all that, but he hasn’t wavered,” Gallagher said. “He could have said this family is a little too nutty for me, but he never did.”

All these good works, and the many more I’m sure James did in the past and that we have never hear about, led up to his being awarded the prestigious National Kidney Foundation’s (NKF)  “Gift of Life” award. Talk about being in rarified air; take a look at who his fellow awardees are for that award:

On March 7, 2015 the National Kidney Foundation Celebrated Life at the 2015 Kidney Gift of Life “All that Glitters is Gold” Gala at Heinz Field’s West Club Lounge!  This year’s Gala featured live entertainment by Protégé as well as a VIP reception, open bar, sit down dinner, and silent and live auctions.

The night featured a VIP Reception to honor our 2015 Gift of Life Awardees. This year’s Gift of Life Awardees were: 

2015-Gift-of-Life-Awardees

Mark Costanzo, President, Renal Therapies Group of Fresenius Medical Care; 

Dr. David Levenson, Section Chief, Renal Division and Vice-Chair of Medicine, UPMC Shadyside; Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Medical Director, DaVita Pittsburgh Dialysis Unit; and, Partner, Partners in Nephrology and Endocrinology (PINE); 

Dr. Richard L. Simmons, Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery, Chairman Emeritus, Department of Surgery, Medical Director, UPMC; and 

James Conner, University of Pittsburgh Sophomore Running Back. The awardees epitomize the profound commitment that is essential in providing the best quality of life for those affected by chronic kidney disease.

Hmmm, let’s see, a President of a Medical Group and two highly distinguished doctors from the renal Division of UPMC… and star PITT running back James Conner.  That’s a hell of a starter resume’ for James right there.

You can listen for yourself how the NFK appreciates Conner’s work with the organization in this podcast clip (listen to it all for Conner’s first impressions of Narduzzi). The clip is at the bottom of the page.

Back in December of ’14 John Dudley wrote an article about Conner being the Erie Times-News Sportsman of the Year and how Conner is remembered very fondly by his Erie friends. Here is a piece that shows where Conner’s head is after receiving all the accolades he has garnered in his two years at PITT.

While posing for photos with students and teachers, Conner filled the doorway at his old school — figuratively, if not literally, a larger-than-life presence for young athletes who will grow up recognizing him as a household name. 

The legacy he’s contributing to in his hometown and the Erie region — one fed over the years by a string of football stars like Mike McCoy, Fred Biletnikoff, Mark Stepnoski and Bob Sanders — isn’t lost on him.

He’s well aware of what he represents, and the obligation that comes with it.  “With having success and having younger kids look up to me comes a lot of responsibility,” Conner said. “You have to do the right things at all times because people are always watching. But I enjoy that, being a role model to the younger kids, and showing them that dreams do come true.”

Conner Running

That last part is something that we all hope every PITT player embraces as much as James Conner does.

BTW – in doing research for this I stumbled on this RotoWorld NBC Sports website that lists info on Conner and links all the latest national articles written about him.  Here is that site’s Tyler Boyd page and Chad Voytik’s also.

 

May 24, 2015

On That Day…

Filed under: Admin,Alumni,Coaches,Football,Good,History,Honors,Players — Reed @ 11:30 am

As the years’ calendar turns to the end of May and the start of what we all see as the spring and summer season, or as we PITT football fans say “the time when no football things are happening” one date always jumps out at me.

It’s on that day our Memorial Holiday falls.  In addition to the store sales, reunions, parties, parades, and picnics Memorial Day also holds a meaning that strikes a deeper and more significant cord in many of us.  You all know that I’ve reference my professional life as a military officer before.  Because that career and my experiences serving in that capacity filled almost my whole adult life, from age 22 until I retired four years ago, it is the lens in which I see, think and feel almost everything through.

So while woolgathering yesterday to try to figure out the next thing to write about Pitt football it occurred to me that I’ve never done a separate Memorial Day piece and that is because it seems to have nothing to do with PITT football.  But after some serious reflection I do believe Memorial Day and the University of Pittsburgh, in all their respective facets, have deep ties and are intertwined both historically and in the present.

Many Pitt fans have friends and relatives who have served in the Armed Forces at some point, or maybe they themselves have.  PITT students fought in our Civil War in the 1860s… on both sides.  Early in the 20th century some of our grandparents who attended or were affiliated with the university volunteered to serve and were sent to Europe during WWI.  Many of our parents, aunts and uncles had their PITT educations interrupted to join the fight in World War II.  My father, two of my aunts and an uncle went directly from being students at PITT into the military then overseas to Europe and China-Burma.

Of course my mother, an younger woman, stayed home and attended PITT until my dad came back from the war and they could get married in Heinz Chapel in the shadow of the Cathedral of Learning.  A scenario repeated thousands of times across college campuses I’m sure.  It is true thatThey also serve who only stand and waite”.

PITT had many other students and alumni who served and some who gave ‘the last full measure’ as Lincoln so eloquently stated.  There has never been a war or an armed conflict without PITT personnel involved.  Here are just a few examples.

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May 12, 2015

(Taken from the original as linked, see endnote.)

All-Draft teams for five top college football programs

By Mike Huguenin

After breaking down how conferences and major college programs have fared in recent NFL drafts, CFB 24/7 set out to answer a more hypothetical question: Which five schools would field the best 22-player starting lineups using only draft picks from the past?

A few ground rules for this top five:

1.  To make the list, a player had to have entered the NFL as a draft pick — no undrafted free agents or guys who played in the NFL before the draft began. (We bent the rules a bit on three guys who began their careers in the AFL.)

2.  All things being equal, we gave more value to a middle- or late-round pick who hit it big. It’s possible that a fourth-round pick, for instance, shows up on our list instead of a first-rounder. First-rounders are supposedto pan out, whereas teams hope a fourth-rounder produces. But don’t fret: The majority of players who made our list were indeed first-rounders.

3.  We picked an actual starting 22, which means some Hall of Famers did not make our list.

Four of the five teams we’ve selected probably won’t be a surprise. Three of the five are long-time powers, and one is a relative newcomer to the scene (17 of the 22 players selected were drafted in the 1980s, 1990s or 2000s). The other, while it hasn’t been nationally relevant in a while, has pumped out numerous stud players, and definitely belongs.

A lot of big-name programs didn’t make the cut. We discuss them at the end; for the most part, they fell short — frankly, way, way short — at one key position.

Here is our top five.  Feel free to disagree — and we know you will.

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March 4, 2015

Senior Night for Three

Filed under: Basketball,Honors,Players — Chas @ 8:48 am

I’ll toss up the open thread closer to game time. For now, just a focus on the players that move on after this year.

Senior night still matters. It gives us a chance to be reminded that the kids that have been wearing the blue-and-gold are more than the names on the jerseys. They are more than the victories and losses. The successes and failures. The way we support our school through their play.

They have their own stories. They have their own futures. While their playing career for Pitt is ending, so much more of their life is just beginning.

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