James Conner is the leader of a ground attack at Pitt that looks to pull off the upset this Saturday at Oklahoma State. But Conner learned his footing from a former top high school star from Tulsa.
"I'm excited to be able to go down to Stillwater,” said former Pitt running back Isaac Bennett. “See Pitt, hopefully, pull out a win against Oklahoma State."
Bennett, also a former Booker T. Washington running back, wanted to leave Tulsa. But former TU Head Coach Todd Graham recruited him before he accepted the job at Pitt. Bennett was named the starting running back his junior year, and that same year, a freshman came in by the name of James Conner.
"He's a funny guy, and he's a passionate guy,” said Bennett. “He's a freak athlete on the field."
Bennett's senior year gave way to Conner's emergence as the lead back, but as Conner was about to take the reins of the Panthers, Bennett found out Conner wouldn't make it.
"When I first heard about, first off, we got together and prayed," Bennett recalled.
Conner sustained a season-ending MCL injury and then was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in December of 2015.
Bennett knew his former teammate would battle back.
"I didn't get down, because knowing James and how he is, as you could tell, with him practicing even during treatment, so that's the type of person he is,” said Bennett.
Conner battled back, and six months later he was declared cancer free and returned to the football field.
Back in Tulsa, Bennett was very happy for his fellow Panther. And as Bennett tries to carve his own path in Tulsa, teaching youth football at Crossover Sports Association, he also learned valuable lessons from Conner.
"Just him battling through every day, how he presented himself off the field, you look at that as positivity,” said Bennett. “You take that in; you say, ‘I want to be like that.’"