It’s been 12 months since James 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 took the field on Saturday as Pittsburgh’s starting running back. 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. On Saturday it became a reality.

Conner shared this moment with those who shared his journey, taking over a corner of Heinz Field with family, friends, doctors and staff that helped him along the way. USA Today’s Nicole Auerbach was on the scene to show off the group, wearing surgical masks in support of Pitt’s star running back.

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 / Watch as James Conner leads Pitt onto the field in first game back from cancer