Pitt sophomore RB Conner covering both sides of ball in offseason
HARBOR CREEK — When Pitt running back James Conner and Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons crossed paths last year at their shared South Side training facility, it turned out to be more than a routine meeting.
Timmons gave Conner career advice that the younger player is not taking lightly.
“He told me I should be playing defense,” Conner said Monday after working the Harbor Creek High School football camp. “I kind of laughed it off, but it definitely stuck with me. I put heavy thought to that.”
Pitt reports to training camp Aug. 3, and Conner will be a focal point while he tackles his main job — feature running back — and dabbles in his second position, defensive end.
“I don't know which one I like (best),” said Conner, who was helping Harbor Creek coach Ned Bailey, a friend and coach from their days together at Erie McDowell.
“I've been playing running back since I was knee high,” Conner said. “That's always my first love. (But) I see the (NFL) draft and I see the success Aaron (Donald) had on defense. It would be great to follow up on somebody like that.”
Coach Paul Chryst has told Conner to plan to play both positions.
“We'll see what happens,” said Conner, who is entering his sophomore season. “Maybe junior year, I'll play one position, maybe defense, maybe offense.”
To cover all bases, Conner has set goals for himself.
“I want to have about 10 sacks and go for about 10 touchdowns and try to go for about 1,300 rushing yards,” he said. “I want to accomplish big things this year. I am going to do everything in the weight room and on the field and listen to my coaches to accomplish that.”
Conner, who said his knee is healed from an injury suffered in the spring, realizes he set lofty goals. But he remains undaunted in his mind.
“Every time I tell myself I'm going to do something, I do it,” he said. “Before the bowl game, I said I want to leave with the MVP, and I did that. I said I want to run a 4.4- (second) 40-yard dash, and I did that (in the spring). So far, I'm having success putting my mind to something and doing it.”
Bailey said Conner wasn't always as motivated.
“He didn't always seem to want to go 100 percent for me,” Bailey said.
But when Bailey, then McDowell's freshman coach, demoted Conner to second team, he lit a fire.
“Holding the reins back on him, making him toe the line, saying, ‘Hey, you are not going to play until you put 100 percent effort into it,' I hope that helped him out,” Bailey said.
Conner became a star in the McDowell weight room, bulking up from a 5-foot-10, 185-pound high school freshman to the 6-2, 250 college football player he is today. He also said he is benching 405 pounds after lifting 330 the first time he tried as a junior.
McDowell strength coach Dave Esser said he always believed Conner possessed NFL potential.
“I still believe today his big thing is defensive end. Jabaal Sheard, that's him,” Esser said, referring to the former Pitt All-American and current Cleveland Browns player.
Meanwhile, Conner said Chryst advises him to remain focused on whatever the task is that day.
“He says, ‘Don't let all the attention get to my head,' ” Conner said. “I already knew that.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pitt women’s soccer makes history; West Virginia doesn’t want to repeat it
- Same cast, improved results for Pitt defense
- Pitt football team staying humble amid 3-1 start
- Pitt notebook: RB Ollison thriving with aggressive running style
- Pitt notebook: Panthers keeping many players involved
- Defense is 1st priority at Pitt hoops opens practice
- Pitt coach McConnell-Serio confident in young team
- Pitt, Virginia Tech patch holes in lineup
- Pitt holds off Virginia Tech in ACC opener
- Pitt notebook: Voytik proves value by baffling Hokies with running ability
- Pitt notebook: Backup QB Peterman to relieve Voytik again