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College Football

Cancer survivor James Conner plans to spike ball after first touchdown

The Pittsburgh Panthers open their season on Saturday with a game against the Villanova Wildcats. And Panthers running back James Conner has special plans if he scores a touchdown during the game. And to say he has a good reason to do so would be a drastic understatement.

Conner has navigated an incredibly tumultuous and difficult year. After suffering a season-ending knee injury, Conner’s world turned upside-down when he was diagnosed in December with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

At the time, Conner boldly stated, “I choose to not fear cancer…I will play football again.” And after receiving a clean bill of health after being declared cancer-free in May — which followed 12 rounds of chemotherapy and the devastating impacts it has on the mind and body — Conner will play alongside his Panthers teammates on Saturday.

And should he wind up in the end zone? Conner says he will spike the football, regardless of the consequences.

“I want to spike the ball,” Conner said, via ESPN. “I might get a penalty. If I break a lot of tackles and run somebody over in the end zone, then I’m spiking it and I’m going to take the 15-yard penalty, which Coach will understand. If I break a long run, I don’t know. Whatever I do, it will be real quick and then I’m going to celebrate with my teammates.”

Conner’s brave and ultimately successful battle even caught the eye of Craig Sager, who was and continues to battle leukemia. The beloved NBA courtside reporter even conducted a Face Time session with Conner in June before working the first NBA Finals game of his esteemed career.

Conner obviously overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to resume his college football career, just as he promised upon his diagnosis. And regardless of whether or not the 21-year-old scores a touchdown against Villanova, perhaps an emphatic spike of the football at some point during the game would be fitting and acceptable.

[CBS Sports]