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Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24), who is undergoing cancer treatments and not playing, walks along the sideline past teammates during a spring NCAA college football game, Saturday, April 16, 2016 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakoci

Pittsburgh running back James Conner (24), who is undergoing cancer treatments and not playing, walks along the sideline past teammates during a spring NCAA college football game, Saturday, April 16, 2016 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakoci

Panthers’ running back overcomes cancer, injury to continue standout career

 GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Pitt running back James Conner has been named the recipient of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2016 Brian Piccolo Award, ACC Commissioner John Swofford announced Thursday.

The Piccolo Award has been given annually since 1970 in memory of the late Brian Piccolo to the “most courageous” football player in the ACC. As a standout running back at Wake Forest, Piccolo was the ACC Athlete of the Year in 1965 and played for the Chicago Bears before his career was cut short when he was stricken with cancer. His courageous fight against that disease was an inspiration to the Bears and the entire football community.

Conner will be recognized as the 2016 Brian Piccolo Award recipient during the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game, which is set for this Saturday evening at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium.

Conner was named the ACC Player of the Year following a stellar sophomore season in 2014, when he rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns en route to earning first-team All-America honors. But a knee injury in the opening game ended his 2015 season, and the Erie, Pennsylvania, native was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma a few months later.

Six months of grueling chemotherapy followed, but Conner persevered while continuing to rehab his injured knee. Declared cancer free last spring, Conner returned to the playing field this fall to again rank among college football’s elite as a dual-threat runner who has broken the ACC record for career touchdowns (56). The redshirt junior earned first-team All-ACC honors after he finished the 2016 regular season fifth among league rushers with 1,060 yards and scored 20 touchdowns.

“During the past year, James Conner has touched so many lives beyond the football field,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Yes, he is an exceptional player. But, more importantly, he is an outstanding person who has used his adversity to spread a message of hope and inspiration.

“Twelve months ago, he was just beginning his fight against cancer. Today, he not only has won that battle, but he also is an All-ACC running back and 1,000-yard rusher. He has an unbreakable spirit that is simply incredible. I have no doubt that Brian Piccolo would be proud that James is the recipient of this very important award.”

Conner has also been honored with the 2016 Disney Sports Spirit Award, given annually to college football’s most inspirational figure. He becomes the first Pitt student-athlete to claim the Brian Piccolo Award since the Panthers joined the ACC prior to the 2013 season.

ACC Brian Piccolo Award Winners

1970    Paul Miller, QB, North Carolina

1971     Jim Webster, LB, North Carolina

1972     Mark Johnson, QB, Duke

1973     Al Neville, QB, Maryland

1974     David Visaggio, DG,  Maryland

1975     Scott Gardner, QB, Virginia

1976     Jeff Green, DE, Duke

1977     Ralph Stringer, DB, NC State

1978     Rex Varn, DB, Clemson

1979     not available

1980     Jack Cain, DB,Clemson

1981     Aaron Stewart, DB, Duke

1982     Kenny Duckett, WR, Wake Forest

1983     John Piedmonte, OLB,Wake Forest

1984     J.D. Maarleveld, T,  Maryland

1985     Danny Burmeister, DB, N. Carolina

1986     Ray Williams, WR, Clemson

1987     no recipient

1988     Jerry Mays, TB, Georgia Tech

1989     Michael Anderson, RB, Maryland

1990     Marc Mays, WR, Duke

1991     Scott Adell, T,  NC State

1992     Dan Footman, DE, Florida State

                Randy Cuthbert, TB,  Duke

1993     Scott Youmans, DL, Duke

1994     Chris Harrison, T, Virginia

1995     Warren Forney, DT, Clemson

1996     John Lewis, RB, Wake Forest

1997     Sam Cowart, LB, Florida State

1998     Anthony Poindexter, DB, Virginia

                Corey Simon, DT, Florida State

1999     Chris Weinke, QB,  Florida State

2000     Ed Wilder, FB, Georgia Tech

2001     Matt Crawford, T, Maryland

2002     Anquan Boldin, WR, Florida State

2003     Kevin Bailey, OL, Virginia

2004     Frank Gore, RB, Miami

2005     Ryan Best, S, Virginia

2006     Glenn Sharpe, Miami

2007     Matt Robinson, DE, Wake Forest

2008     Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina

2009     Toney Baker, RB, NC State

2010     Mark Herzlich, LB, Boston College,

                Nate Irving, LB, NC State

2011     Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina

2012     Shayon Green, DE, Miami

                Chris Thompson, RB, Florida State

2013     Robert Godhigh, RB, Georgia Tech

2014     Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

2015     Hunter Knigthon, OL, Miami

2016     James Conner, RB, Pitt


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