Good news arrived Tuesday when Erie photo-journalist Mike Gallagher, close friend with Pitt running back James Conner and his family, telephoned.
Conner, who is undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkins lymphoma, has finished four of the 12 treatments and the tumors continue to shrink, Gallagher said. In fact, he said Conner’s face no longer has a swollen look now that the tumor that was blocking blood flow to the heart has been reduced.
Conner has reacted well to most of the treatments — No. 4 last week was the roughest — and he has been a regular in the Pitt weight room, lifting and running on the treadmill.
Conner gets a treatment every two weeks, and has them scheduled through May.
He has vowed to beat the disease and Dr. Stanley Marks, one of the leading cancer doctors in the world, suggested that Conner could play this season.
One game Conner has circled on the Pitt schedule, just released Tuesday, is the Sept. 24 ACC opener at North Carolina. Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky is a high school rival from Mentor, Ohio.
I had the pleasure Wednesday morning to break down Pitt’s schedule on TribLive Radio with my good friend and talk show host Ken Laird.
The schedule is one of Pitt’s most difficult in many years, with eight bowl teams, four that won 10 games and three that finished last season in the Top 20.
Most of the toughest games are grouped together, with Pitt playing Penn State, Oklahoma State, North Carolina and Marshall back-to-back-to-back-to-back in weeks 2-5. Then, in November, Pitt plays at Miami and national runner-up Clemson on consecutive Saturdays.
It’s way too early to predict how many games Pitt will win, without knowing:
— How much Conner will be able to play.
— If Narduzzi will be able to adequately replace wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
— If the defense will make enough positive strides after allowing 1,321 yards over the last three games.
But, as Ken and I point out during the show, if Pitt can start with a modest 3-2 record (not unreasonable), it has a chance to be 6-2 heading into the final third of the season.