Conner, Boyd On Maxwell, Hornung Watch Lists

Playing valuable roles as true freshmen in 2013, James Conner and Tyler Boyd were expected to be on a Watch List at some point. Monday's announcement that both were on the Maxwell and Hornung Watch List comes sooner than expected.

Perhaps this is something that both James Conner and Tyler Boyd hoped to accomplish at some point in their career.

Neither expected, as they get set to begin their sophomore years, that they'd appear on a prestigious Watch List award, for the Maxwell or the Hornung, this soon in their career.

Pitt is one of just four schools with multiple players on the Hornung Watch List (Duke, North Carolina, Nebraska). Conner and Boyd were two of 10 ACC players on the Watch List, as a whole.

"It's a great honor to be on the watch list for these awards, for me and Tyler," Conner said. "Hopefully, we'll be on there at the end of the year--that means it was a good year."

Both players took some time to meet with the local media, upon being named to these two Watch Lists. Instead of talking about what it means to be named to either list, we got a better idea of what is really on their mind, and perhaps what really keys an individual honor like this--the team around them.

It's a sign that this Pitt program is heading in the right direction, under third-year head coach Paul Chryst.

Instead of talking about themselves, and the honor to simply be on a Watch List, in talking about Monday's news, we're getting a more clear picture of how this 2014 team is shaping up, and where exactly the credit lies.

Conner did himself a huge favor at the end of the season, to be on the watch list. The freshman running back set a new school-record by rushing for 229 yards in a bowl game. Interestingly, a game where he also saw some time at defensive end.

Coincidentally, the Hornung Award is a relatively new award, which goes to the best all-around, or versatile player. If this plan continues for Conner to see time at running back and defensive end, and he has a productive year, it's easy to make a case that Conner be in contention for this award. All this, for a 2013 signee who was ranked the No. 130 defensive end in the country, a two-star recruit.

"I know it would be something that would be cool to do," Conner said of playing on both sides of the ball. "It's real. Now, I just have to do it."

To prepare for the season, as a team activity, the team does a sort of a book report. This was also done last year. This year, the title of the book that the team is reading is called 'Today Matters.' Ironically, the book is authored by a John C. Maxwell. Conner and Boyd were two players asked to step up and read a chapter to the team as a whole, in this activity. Ray Vinopal and Chad Voytik were two others selected.

When asked by head coach Paul Chryst, as to what he took from the book, Conner took something to heart, that is reflective by him being named to this Watch List as just a sophomore--don't wait until later, accomplish the goals now. Meaning that this Pitt team doesn't want to be 7-6 again, or wait until Conner and Boyd are seniors, to be good. The message Chryst hoped to hear, is that this team wants to be good, right now.

"Coach made the message, and had us wear blue wristbands, with the word 'NOW' in gold," Conner said. "The message from it, is don't wait to be great. Coach says, 'Why wait? Do it now.' That's the motto that we're going to carry out throughout the season--don't wait, do it now."

Pitt certainly has reasons to be optimistic about the coming season. In addition to returning Boyd and Conner, five players who started games on the offensive line, the recognition that Boyd and Conner are receiving now are also reflective of the number of freshmen who contributed a year ago, and will be counted on to contribute in leadership roles now.

There are a number of sophomores on the 2014 team, who are poised for bigger roles. It's not a matter of projecting themselves to be good when they are seniors in 2016. Conner, Boyd, and the rest of the team, believes they can be good right now.

"With these awards, they're great, but what's a running back without his offensive linemen," Conner said. "Coach Chryst has done a great job with the recruiting class he's brought in. Each day, everyone's getting tighter. I can't wait to get started."

Conner also credits the returning players, particularly the senior class--a smaller class, but one that doesn't seem short on quality leadership. Take for example, Vinopal and Manasseh Garner.

"If there's a guy who's ten or 15 minutes late, (Garner) is on them," Conner said. "Ray and Manasseh, they're doing a great job as team leaders."

Boyd mentioned another in Kevin Weatherspoon. When it came time for the book report on the 'Today Matters," he said the team responded to what Weatherspoon had to add in his translation.

"Spoon came up, and really sparked it to the team," Boyd said. "He said it should be our motto for the year--don't talk about it, be about it. He sent the message, and everyone applied to it."

Recognition is something not new for Boyd. His high school team was nationally-recognized for a 66-game winning streak. Boyd also had his choice of schools coming out of high school, as a four-star recruit. Not to mention, he set new Pitt marks for receiving with 85 receptions for 1,174 yards--toppling previous freshmen receiving records set by Larry Fitzgerald.

Like Conner, Boyd isn't concerned with the individual praise. It's nice, but he also says it's a testament to the team around him.

"It feels good, even as a young player, to be recognized in the college football world," Boyd said. "I'm not going to let it get to my head. I can't do it all by myself, I need my whole team out there with me. As long as everything is clicking as one, everything will come out right at the end."

Boyd says he has been voluntarily working outside of the conditioning routine with Voytik, saying the chemistry is good--but he expects it to be even better after a full training camp. Voytik connected with Boyd on a 64-yard touchdown in the bowl win over Bowling Green. They've done it in one game, yet Boyd feels the chemistry he has with Voytik is going to be even better.

"It's been pretty much the same since when I got here," Boyd said. "I felt pretty comfortable with him last year. My chemistry, my connection with him is pretty strong. We have a good chemistry, but not great yet. We're going to wait (and see) after camp."

Both players also have taken note of how well this incoming group of freshmen have bought in I really can't say no names, but I can say one because he's in my position, and that's Adonis Jennings," Boyd said. "He came out of high school just like me--top-notch, four-star receiver. His hands are good, his routes are good. Once camp comes, we'll see how worth he is to the team."

Conner also didn't want to single out individual players, but he did point out a couple of players who seem to fit in right away--no surprise, going back to his comment about a running back not being good without his linemen.

"Qadree (Ollison) is good, he's a big back like me," Conner said. "Chris (James) was highly-recruited. He works really hard. Qadree works really hard. They all can contribute this year. We're going to be dangerous at running back.

"A couple o-linemen, Mike Grimm, Alex Bookser. They look like real men, they look great. I hope they are."

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