July 7, 2014
Now sophomores, Boyd and Conner are beginning to see their reputations rise on the national level. Both players were named to the preseason watch lists for the Maxwell Award, given to college football's player of the year, and Paul Hornung Award, given to the country's most versatile player.
The Maxwell Award, presented by the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia in honor of Robert W. "Tiny" Maxwell, has been annually awarded since 1937. Two former Pitt players are past Maxwell recipients, running back Tony Dorsett in 1976 and defensive end Hugh Green in 1980.
The Paul Hornung Award presented by Texas Roadhouse was created in 2010 by the Louisville Sports Commission in honor of the former Notre Dame and Green Bay Packers great.
Boyd (Clairton, Pa./Clairton) was the nation's most productive freshman receiver last year, compiling 85 catches for 1,174 yards (13.8 avg.) and seven touchdowns. He set Pitt freshman records for receptions and yards, eclipsing marks held by Larry Fitzgerald (who had 69 catches for 1,005 yards in 2002). Boyd also set the ACC record for freshman receptions, topping the mark held by Clemson's Sammy Watkins (82 catches in 2011).
Boyd closed his freshman season with a magnificent performance in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, compiling 242 all-purpose yards to help the Panthers defeat Bowling Green, 30-27. He had eight catches for a career-high 173 yards (21.6 avg.) and added a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown. Boyd's receiving yardage against Bowling Green set a Pitt bowl record, surpassing the mark of 163 set by Gordon Jones in the Dec. 30, 1977, Gator Bowl against Clemson. His punt return TD was Pitt's first since Darrelle Revis had a 73-yarder vs. West Virginia in 2006.
An All-ACC selection by both the media (second team) and coaches (third team), Boyd additionally was named a Freshman All-American by no fewer than six outlets.
(WATCH: Boyd's 2013 season highlights)
Conner (Erie, Pa./McDowell) led Pitt in rushing yards (799) and rushing touchdowns (eight), becoming the first freshman to lead the Panthers in those two categories since Dion Lewis in 2009. He averaged 5.5 yards on 146 carries in 12 games (missing the Oct. 19 Old Dominion game due to injury).
Conner's most memorable performance came in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl when he rushed for 229 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries (8.8 avg.). His rushing yardage set a Pitt bowl record, eclipsing Tony Dorsett's 202 yards vs. Georgia in the Jan. 1, 1977, Sugar Bowl. Conner also contributed as a pass rushing specialist vs. Bowling Green, drawing a key holding call on the Falcons' final possession, and was named the bowl's MVP.
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst has indicated Conner will play defensive snaps again in 2014. Describing him as a "throwback" player, NFL.com recently lauded Conner as one of the 14 toughest players in college football. ABC's Brent Musburger nicknamed Conner "The Hammer" after he bulled for two touchdowns against Notre Dame. His two-yard TD in the third quarter tied the game, 14-14, while his one-yard plunge in the fourth quarter provided the winning points in the Panthers' 28-21 upset of the No. 24 Fighting Irish.
(WATCH: Conner's 2013 season highlights)
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