James Conner to NFL GMs: 'I am more than the guy who beat cancer'

The Steelers drafted James Conner in the third round of the NFL Draft on Friday. It's the perfect pick for them.

Former Pitt running back James Conner knows he'll always be known, in part, as the player who beat cancer to return to his college career.

But that isn't stopping him from trying to create a new identity for himself — one removed from his battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

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Many will remember Conner for being the player who in 2014 rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns en route to earning ACC Player of the Year honors, only to tear his MCL in 2015 — and get diagnosed with cancer during the recovery process. He made his triumphant return against Villanova last season, rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown while catching another through the air.

"I’ve come to realize that me being a cancer survivor is something I’ll never get away from. It’s a part of my story, no doubt," Conner wrote in The Players' Tribune. "But I’m writing you today to let you know that I am more than the guy who beat cancer. I’m writing to tell you some things that you don’t know about me."

What Conner didn't tell anyone was that he was nowhere near to his pre-cancer form.

"I was probably at about 60 percent going into last season," Conner wrote. "Now, I definitely got stronger and better with each game. But, yeah, that’s just real talk. Sixty percent. If that.

"Early on, because I only had two months to prepare for the season, it was extremely difficult for me to be at my best," he said. "To be honest with you, I’d be tired just running out the tunnel. Those first couple of games really took their toll on me."

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Now, Conner wants GMs to know this about him: He's 100 percent healthy. He is still cancer-free, and says the knee injury he suffered has healed.

Conner said he'll be a great back for whichever NFL team drafts him: someone in the mold of Marshawn Lynch. And he has a huge aspiration to go with it.

"I don’t set little goals. I mean, I’m trying to be in the Hall of Fame one day," Conner wrote. "That’s where I’m looking to take this. That’s where my head’s at.

"If that goal sounds overly ambitious, or like an unrealistic dream, just think about what I went through to get here."

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