Pittsburgh running back James Conner found out in May he is cancer free, but his friendship with former Clemson pitcher Clate Schmidt will remain with him for life.
Several months earlier, Schmidt had battled cancer himself, and he had plenty of encouragement along the way. Now cancer-free, he wanted to make a difference for others.
Schmidt reached out to Conner to offer support as Conner began his battle with cancer this past December. What followed was a bond that neither expected.
“I had people all over the world, from the United Kingdom to Georgia Tech to Wisconsin, literally all over reach out to me,” Schmidt said. “I knew people had reached out to me when I announced it, and I wanted to be able to pay it back and pay it forward to everybody.”
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Conner, an All-American in 2014 before being sidelined with an MCL injury and then cancer in 2015, was appreciative of any advice he could get. He texted with Schmidt throughout his battle with cancer, which included 12 chemotherapy sessions.
“He reached out to me and gave me some tips on what the process was going to be like and he didn’t have to do that,” Conner said. “I could tell he had a good heart, and we just became close friends.”
The two met for the first time prior to Pitt’s football game at Clemson in November.
Conner recorded 189 total yards and two touchdowns as the Panthers upset the Tigers in Death Valley. Conner then had some friendly smack talk for Schmidt.
“He was like, ‘Oh, you were the good luck charm that got us the win,’ and stuff,” Schmidt said with a laugh. “I was rooting for him, but also rooting for Clemson. It was a lot of fun to watch him play and perform.”
The two got together again last week in Atlanta when Conner was in town to accept the Disney Spirit Award. Conner met Schmidt’s family and spent Wednesday night at the Schmidt family house.
“He came and picked me up and I got to meet his mother and his father. It was like I’ve known them my whole life. It was an awesome time,” Conner said.
Conner, 21, and Schmidt, who just turned 23, don’t spend much time talking about the tough times that brought them together. Instead, they just enjoy the friendship that has formed.
“We watched a movie and then we played ping pong. We’re just normal,” Conner said.
Schmidt pitched last season for Clemson and helped the Tigers to the ACC title, while Conner rushed for 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns on his way to being named All-ACC.
He has declared for the NFL Draft and will join Schmidt, a pitcher in the Detroit Tigers organization, as a professional athlete soon.
As the two continue their athletic careers, they’re thankful to have each other to lean on.
“I never imagined we’d be this close,” Schmidt said. “It’s been so cool to see our friendship blossom. I consider him one of my brothers.”