PITTSBURGH -- Though other cancer survivors around the NFL decided to opt out this season, James Conner never considered it.
The Pittsburgh Steelers running back, diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma during his college career at Pitt, told reporters Wednesday morning that despite being a high-risk player, he never seriously considered not playing in the final year of his rookie contract.
"Going on four years now removed from cancer," Conner said. "I didn't really have to talk to my family. It was never a concern for me. I've been healthy for years now. It was an easy decision for me. I never really gave much thought to it. I'm healthy and my immune system is back healthy. I'm not worried."
Conner, 25, was declared cancer-free in 2016 and played a final college season before being selected by the Steelers in the third round of the 2017 draft.
The Steelers are one of only three teams without a player opting out because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because he knows plenty about Conner's determination, Steelers running backs coach Eddie Faulkner wasn't concerned he would have to go through this season without his top back.
"The climate being what it is and his previous situation being what it was, that can always be a possibility, but knowing his heart and where he's at and the kind of competitor he was, it was never a real thought in my head," Faulkner said. "It's never anything that was approached in a conversation that he and I had or anything like that. To be honest with you, I kind of fully expected him to be a full participant. That's just how he's built."
After injuries forced him to miss six games last year, Conner is healthy and eager to improve on his 464-yard, four-touchdown 2019 season with an offense at full strength.
"I just feel like guys are excited to be back. Nobody on our team opted out," Conner said. "We just were excited to get back. It's been a long offseason."