Pitt’s Conner drops ‘cargo’ to become quicker runner
Based on natural ability and past performance, Pitt running back James Conner must carry his team’s heavy expectations on his massive shoulders.
But the load is lighter this season because Conner shed what strength coach Dave Andrews calls excess “cargo.”
“I wanted James to lose cargo and gain horsepower,” Andrews said.
It’s true Conner has lost about 10 pounds off the 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame he used to bulldoze ACC opponents last season.
More importantly in Andrews’ eyes, Conner lost 15 pounds of cargo, “or body fat,” he said.
“I’m not talking about pounds. We’re talking about body fat. And (he) gained horsepower. He has more lean mass right now.”
The result could be a quicker running back trying to improve upon the 1,765 yards and school-record 26 touchdowns he recorded last year on his way to winning ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors.
“When you lose 15 pounds of body fat, you are going to do a lot of things at a higher level,” Andrews said. “That was the main goal with him.
“You know how powerful James Conner is. We have to make sure he can do it repetitively.”
Conner, 20, labors under the belief that good isn’t good enough, which leads him to practice and play with an air of defiance.
“Every day, I’m learning something new,” he said. “It’s like my first camp. Even the best of the best has a chip on his shoulder, because there’s always somebody coming running to beat you.”
After practice Thursday, he said, “We (the offense) have to clean some stuff up.”
Nonetheless, Andrews said Conner has done a good job of preparing for the season.
“James Conner has done a phenomenal job of buying into the system and understanding that his habits outside of here — in terms of what he’s eating, how he’s living, how he’s recovering — is going to affect him this season,” Andrews said.
With a repeat of last year’s performance, Conner has a chance to be a high NFL draft choice in 2016 if he elects to leave Pitt after his junior season. But he has said he is not thinking beyond this season.
Andrews said Conner’s approach and demeanor someday will look good on his resume.
“James has been professional,” he said. “What do I mean by that? He’s been consistent. If you can be the same guy every day, someone down the road would like to hire that kind of person.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review pitt football reporter. You can contact Jerry at 412-320-7997, email@example.com or via Twitter .