TEMPE, Ariz. — Running back James Conner has traveled the country for work and pleasure, but his world has been centered around western Pennsylvania for all 25 years of his life.
That changed this week.
Conner signed a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday, which means he’ll be leaving his home state on a full-time basis for the first the first time in his life. He grew up in Erie, went to college at the University of Pittsburgh and then played the first four years of his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Conner has never played a home game outside of the Keystone State.
After practicing in the same facility and playing in Heinz Field for eight years, Conner’s new football home, State Farm Stadium, is 2,104 miles away from his old one.
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“I feel brand new,” Conner said. “I’m excited for this opportunity. It’s definitely a change of scenery for me, being in Pittsburgh eight years.
“All that time in Pittsburgh was just prepping me for where I’m at right now in my life. And this journey brought me out here to A-Z and I felt like I was well equipped, just everything I’ve been through and continue to go through on this journey and leads me to here. So, man, I’m excited to be in this red. I’m excited. I’m truly excited and it’s a blessing.”
Conner didn’t necessarily have a desire to leave western Pennsylvania but admitted that he’s looking forward to the change.
It’ll be an opportunity for him to meet new people, see new places and experience more of the country.
“Certain people talk about being in their hometown and just feel like there’s opportunity for me to grow,” he said. “It’s something new and so I was looking forward to that.”
When Conner, who ran for 2,302 yards and 22 touchdowns with the Steelers, was looking for a new home in free agency, he felt Arizona and the Cardinals were “right place, right time.”
He saw the football side of the decision as an opportunity to contribute to a team that, he feels, is “on the rise” and was a chance to learn from veterans such as receivers DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green. Along with Green, Conner is one of six former Pro Bowl players the Cardinals have added during free agency, joining defensive end J.J. Watt, center Rodney Hudson, cornerback Malcolm Butler and kicker Matt Prater as well.
From a personal side, there was one key element to living in Arizona that helped sway Conner’s decision: The sun.
The state is known to average more than 310 days of sunshine every year.
“This is my vibe,” Conner said. “I love the sun.”