(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.
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:
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.”
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.