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Conner: 'I am ready to get to work'

On Thursday, James Conner will report to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex along with his fellow rookies to get settled in before the start of the team's three-day rookie minicamp that kicks off on Friday.

And this time when he arrives, he will enter through a new door.

For the last three years Conner has entered the building on the right side, through the doors that lead to the Pitt Football offices.

This time, he will go through the ones clearly marked Steelers.

"It's a dream come true to be able to stay in Pittsburgh and play for the great Steelers organization," said Conner. "I just can't say thank you enough to everybody who made this possible throughout my whole journey. I am just forever thankful."

Conner, one of the team's third-round draft picks, played at the University of Pittsburgh and through the entire draft process, while he would have been satisfied with whenever he went, in his heart the Steelers were the team he wanted to play for, and that became even more evident to him after his pre-draft visit.

"It just felt right here," said Conner. "I got great vibes from all of the coaches I interacted with. I am familiar with the city. It was nothing but love and support. Now I get to call it home. It's a blessing.

"I am familiar with Heinz Field. A lot of great memories there. For me to continue to play there with Steelers Nation, the Terrible Towels, I am getting chills thinking about it. I can't wait to head out of the tunnel and take the field."

It's going to be a few more months before he gets to do that, but for now he will at least be taking the field for minicamp, showing the team firsthand what he can do.

"It will be exciting to come in and show the skills off," said Conner. "They expect a lot of things from me and I am going to come in and give it to them. The main thing is earn the respect from the older guys and veterans."

Respect is something Conner already has plenty of. He is a fighter, a warrior, a guy who has a never-say-die attitude. That was on display front and center when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma on Thanksgiving Day in 2015, and courageously fought the battle and won, being cleared in May, 2016 and returning to the playing field in Sept., 2016.

"At the end of the day it can be inspiring, but I am a football player and that is what they brought me here to do is get those tough yards," said Conner. "It's not a tough thing to do. I am here to play football.

"It's a blessing. It will sink in once I put the helmet on, take the field at practice with that Steelers logo on my helmet. I am just excited for that day."

Coach Mike Tomlin talked to Conner on the phone after he was drafted, and his enthusiasm for getting the gritty, hard-nosed running back was apparent as the two spoke. Conner said his job now is to live up to the expectations and enthusiasm.

"Just for them to take a chance on me, I owe it to them to give my all, which I have been doing for years," said Conner. "I owe it to them to level up and go get seven.

"Coach was fired up when we talked. He said he loves the way I play the game. He kept showing more excitement. That got me going, got me ready to go right now. For him to believe in me like that, I am ready to get to work and earn respect from my teammates and just ball out."

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