USC’s Conn chooses Lafayette & football

Published Feb 4, 2014 at 2:50 pm (Updated Feb 4, 2014 at 2:50 pm)

For J.J. Conn of Upper St. Clair, Feb. 10 marks an emotional event in his high school athletic career. At 7:30 p.m. when the Panthers host Chartiers Valley, the 6-3 forward will step onto the court and play his final home game in front of his family and friends, six of whom are senior teammates.

While he learned the game from his father, Conn will not follow in his footsteps to Washington and Jefferson College. Rather, the 19-year-old son of Jeff and Paula Conn will play football in college.

“I’m going to miss this,” said Conn, who was in first grade when he began playing in the community’s recreation league. “I’m going to miss the friendships most of all,” he continued, noting how he and point guard Conor Gallagher have been teammates since AAU ball. “And, my dad,” he added, “I learned so much from him.”

Mr. Conn’s greatest lesson is apparent in the way his son performs. “My dad taught me that no matter what it is that you are striving for, work hard and success will come from that.”

On the basketball court, Conn is successful because he has labored. For the past two seasons, his double-digit scoring has vaulted the Panthers to the top of Section 4 and to one of the top squads in Quad-A of the WPIAL.

Last year, USC reached the Final Four. This winter, Conn is averaging over 15 points per game and the Panthers are poised to make another strong playoff run. They were 10-2 in the division and 14-5 to start this week’s action.

“J.J. has always been a great kid and big contributor to the program,” said USC floor boss Dan Holzer. “He is so dedicated and so competitive.

“He’s a kid who has worked hard to achieve success. He is like all of my kids,” Holzer continued.

“J.J. works hard. He gets good grades. He’s smart and understands what it take to get to the highest level.”

All those traits attracted college recruiters. While Catholic University as well as W&J and other Division III schools were interested in Conn for basketball, Lafayette, Colgate and Dayton were among the universities keen on his football prowess.

In the end, Conn followed the path Holzer described. He picked Lafayette where he will play linebacker for the Leopards, who compete in the Patriot League, while pursuing a business degree.

“Lafayette is a great opportunity for J.J. He will do well there,” predicted Holzer. “It’s a good fit for him.”

Conn concurred. He cited his academics interest coupled with his ability to compete at a high level for his college selection. Conn, who maintains a 3.8 GPA, eventually hopes to earn an MBA and apply his education in management.

“(Lafayette) is in good proximity to Philadelphia and New York City. I thought that was good for internships and possibly work,” he said. Plus, he added, “the Patriot League has a great football tradition.”

Since kindergarten, football has been a part of Conn’s life, just as basketball has been. And, as Holzer noted, Conn has always been able to do both and be successful.

Conn contributed to USC’s third consecutive championship this fall and appearance in the semifinals of the WPIAL Quad-A playoffs. The two-year starter earned second-team all-conference honors at linebacker. On a defense that recorded six shutouts while posting an 11-1 record, Conn recorded 43 tackles.

Conn noted it was a “difficult decision” to choose between football and basketball. “But, I wanted to play at the highest level I could in a sport,” he said. “I realized this year that I liked football more.”

Though he also played wide receiver and served as the Panthers’ back-up quarterback, Conn’s zeal for success led him to the defensive side of the ball. He freely admitted he didn’t have a problem not being the team’s starting quarterback. “I wanted our team to do the best we could,” he said. “I had no problem with linebacker. I love the fact that we can hit people. Definitely delivering the hit is my favorite part about playing football and defense.”

Conn knows that to continue to progress in the sport and balance his studies requires more hard work. He embraces the future.

“I am looking forward to the academic challenges and the freedoms that are associated with college. I know I have to keep on my toes and study hard. Conn added that there are big adjustments ahead on the gridiron, too. “The talent level will be different and I have been fortunate to play at the highest level, the Quad-A level, but in college, the players are all going to good if not better and stronger.”

In the next six weeks, Conn is hoping for a strong finish in basketball for himself and his teammates. USC has a chance to clinch the Section 4 championship when it visits Mt. Lebanon for a 7:30 p.m. tip Feb. 7. That the Panthers are in such a situation is not all Conn’s doing.

“The whole team has done its job. It’s not just me. That has contributed to our success,” Conn explained.

“We’ve all been on varsity for so long,” he noted of his senior teammates. “We’re playing some of the best defense and we are used to playing with each other. Right now our goal is just to take it one game at a time. We want to win the section and get a good seed in the playoffs and go as far as we call. We’d love to build upon last year and get back to the Final Four.”

While he has been on the short end of semifinal games in the past, the Final Four holds a special place for Conn. In fact, he cites, those semifinal clashes with Woodlands Hills as his memorable moments in football.

“Being able to play in the playoffs and, even though, I’m not pleased with having lost twice in the semifinals, we have played against the best teams for three years in a row. That to me has been special.”

J.J. Conn File

Age: 19

Parents: Jeff and Paula

Siblings: Jordan, a sophomore who plays basketball, and Ashleigh, a seventh grader who excels in gymnastics.

School: Upper St. Clair

Year: Senior

Activities: Football, basketball, National Honor Society

GPA: 3.8

College choice: Lafayette

Major: Business.

Favorite color: Red

Favorite food: Cheeseburger

Restaurant: Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza in Peters Township

Favorite players: Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant and Seattle Seahawks’ strong safety Kam Chancellor.

On being the oldest: As the oldest, you do have to be a role model and I take that seriously. I try to do my best and make sure I am doing the right thing and setting a good example.

With whom you would like to have dinner: Kevin Hart. Because I like his comedy. He’s very entertaining.

NCAA prediction: Duke’s my favorite team but I think Arizona is very good. They’re ranked No. 1 right now.

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