Pitt leads for west Pa. DE James Conner

It only took five games of film for five teams to offer James Conner (Erie, Pa./McDowell).

A longtime running back, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Conner volunteered to play defensive end for the final five games of his junior season after a teammate went down with an injury. The result was a five-game tear in which Conner recorded 12 sacks, a single-season school record.

“Now it’s second nature to me,” Conner said.

A handful of teams are already enticed by Conner’s potential on the defensive side of the ball. Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Pittsburgh, Toledo and Youngstown State have all offered.

Earlier this month, Conner visited Pittsburgh, which offered following a camp in June. Among the teams that offered, Pittsburgh is at the top of his list.

“I could tell they wanted me to commit on the spot,” Conner said. “I really like their D-line coach [Inoke Breckterfield]. He has experience, played college football, played in the Canadian Football League. I’m real comfortable with him, real cool guy.”

Breckterfield and the rest of the Panthers staff are in their first year at Pitt. The staff is telling Conner he would be an improvement to what the Panthers already posses.

“He said when you recruit players you want to recruit better than what you have,” Conner said. “He said I can play early. I know all the schools tell me what I want to hear, but I can tell they want me to come here.”

Toledo follows Pittsburgh on his leaderboard, but Conner has his eyes set on a few more BCS teams coming in. Illinois and West Virginia are interested, Conner said, and he said more teams will join the fray once he can get his grades up.

“I took my two summer school courses and got two A’s,” Conner said. “This February I’ll be NCAA eligible no doubt about it. … The grades are first.”

One school Conner is interested in is North Carolina, and McDowell opens the season on Aug. 31 against Mentor (Ohio), whose quarterback, four-star Mitch Trubisky, is a Tar Heels commitment.

“If I can bring him to the ground three or four times,” Conner said, “then we’ll see.”