James Conner is going to experience something pretty incredible on Saturday when Pittsburgh opens up its 2016 season against Villanova. It’s been 12 months since Conner’s season-ending knee injury, nine months since his Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis and less than a month since the 21-year-old, former ACC Player of the Year returned to practice — cancer-free — as a full participant.

After all of the trials and tribulations of the last year, Conner will take the field on Saturday as Pittsburgh’s starting running back, and that moment will be something special. This spring, during CBS Sports’ visit to Pittsburgh for a story on Conner’s battle and the surging Panthers, teammates and coaches discussed Conner taking the field against Villanova with hopefulness in their eyes and voices. This weekend, that moment becomes a reality for everyone.

Conner is ready for his moment. He’s even ready with a special celebration for his first big run, especially if it’s a touchdown.

“I want to spike the ball,” he said, via “I might get a penalty. If I break a lot of tackles and run somebody over in the end zone, then I’m spiking it and I’m going to take the 15-yard penalty, which Coach will understand. If I break a long run, I don’t know. Whatever I do, it will be real quick and then I’m going to celebrate with my teammates.”

Conner wore a mask while working out during the spring for protection as his treatments lowered his white blood cell count and made him more prone to getting ill. Outside of that mask and the no-contact rules, it resembled any other spring for Pitt’s star running back as he eyes a return to the form that saw him run for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2014.

Source: CBS Sports Headlines / After beating cancer, James Conner deserves to spike the ball after his first TD