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December 11, 2013

Running late on this, I know.

On Monday Aaron Donald picked up the first of what has an excellent chance at being several more awards for everything he did this past season.

The Pittsburgh senior defensive tackle won the Bronko Nagurski award given to the nation’s top college defensive player.

The 6-foot, 285-pound Donald was presented the award at a ceremony Monday night in Charlotte.

The ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Donald averaged 2.2 tackles for loss per game while ranking 10th in forced fumbles and 13th in sacks per game.

He had 28½ sacks for his career with one game left to play.

“I’m just so excited,” Donald said. “I think it is a great way for my father to celebrate his birthday. And I think it’s huge for the University of Pittsburgh. There were so many people wishing me well.”

Tonight is the presentation for the Lombardi Award — best lineman or linebacker. On Thursday night, it’s the ESPN-centric extravaganza of college sports awards where Donald is up for the Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year) and the Outland Trophy (best offensive or defensive interior lineman).

Pitt hasn’t had a defensive player win national awards since Hugh Green in 1980 swept the Lombardi, Walter Camp and Maxwell awards.

Donald was happy to get the award on his dad’s birthday since he was the one that played such a huge role in instilling his work ethic. And his mom was just as proud.

As Donald walked up to collect the award, his mother stood, cheered and shouted, “Hail to Pitt!”

When his parents joined him on stage, before he was mobbed by TV cameras and photographers, Donald and his father shared a long embrace.

“I got my dad a nice birthday present today,” Donald said. “I’m truly humbled and truly blessed.”

Despite the chances at winning up to 4 national college awards, Donald was not even among the top-six vote recipients for the Heisman Trophy. So there is still room for outrage and claims of disrespect.

 





To elaborate a little more, because quite frankly, I think Donald deserves as much recognition as he can get.

Aaron Donald committed to Pitt in April of 2009. Perhaps fittingly, he was the first WPIAL kid to commit to the 2010 class. I remember watching him on a Fox Sports Pittsburgh broadcast during his senior year. I think it was against Fox Chapel. He spent the entire night absolutely decimating their offensive line. He was unblockable. Comparisons to names like Sean Gilbert were tossed around, at least in terms of sheer dominance.

For whatever reason – I guess mostly because of his size – he had only three offers. Pitt. Rutgers. Toledo. Maybe it was because he committed relatively early to Pitt and he told other schools he wasn’t changing his mind. Maybe he just didn’t generate the interest.

Whatever it was didn’t matter.

Donald got to Pitt and immediately went to work. On a 2010 team with significant veteran defensive line depth, he worked his way into the two-deep. Forget the redshirt. He saw action in his very first collegiate game at Utah and never looked back.

Donald’s career at Pitt represented a lot of what is right about college football and frankly, what I wish we’d see more of among some players these days. As the last few years of his career played out and he emerged as a national talent, stories of his work ethic on and off the field emerged. And in the end, his career proved to be very simple – he was certainly a talented player to begin with, but his natural talents were exceeded by his work ethic.

We’ve been lucky because we’ve seen variations of this a few times the last decade or so – guys who came in however ballyhooed they may have been, played at high levels and in most cases, became great ambassadors for the program. Larry Fitzgerald. Lesean McCoy. Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. Now Aaron Donald.

My hope for the future of this program is that current and future players learn from his example. He didn’t necessarily have the ideal “measurables”, but he knew his strengths, he knew how to develop them, he let himself be coached and he prepared.

His career parallels an incredibly tumultuous time in Pitt football history – a period that wasn’t easy to watch at times as a fan of the program. But Donald’s play over the last three years has helped make it worth it. I can’t wait for the bowl game just because it’ll be one final chance to see him in a Pitt uniform.

Comment by Stoosh 12.11.13 @ 10:42 pm

This is awesome. Aaron Donald getting his due. He makes me proud to be a Panther, not that I need another reason.

Comment by panther94 12.11.13 @ 10:53 pm

I’m so proud of AD, not just because he’s won 2 awards but because of the way he’s carried himself and represented the university. A real bright spot for the football program, too. Way to go Aaron! We will miss you next year. I hope some of the younger players follow your footsteps and are willing to put in the extra work necessary to achieve great things.

Comment by Annie 12.12.13 @ 12:51 am

Pitt will miss his leadership. Which players will step up next year? It’s a shame AD played on such poor teams and went through all these coaching changes. All the more remarkable.

It would be nice to see him rewarded with going in the first round but he’s probably a solid second round pick and worst case slips to the third round. Unless his trials or pro day is spectacular, his size will go against him. Great motor, heart and head.

Comment by TX Panther 12.12.13 @ 7:24 am

There is a line I use in my coaching – “good is the enemy of great.” Mr. Donald, you are truly a great college player and I wish you all the best in the NFL and life.

Comment by rayhpgh 12.12.13 @ 7:59 am

AD is a beast and deserves every honor he is getting. He also deserves to be at the Heisman ceremony. He had a much better year than Teo and he was at least as good as Suh. I think whoever drafts AD in the 2nd or 3rd round will be getting a steal.

Comment by Wardapalooza 12.12.13 @ 8:05 am

They will be getting a leader and man of great character. And a pretty decent hard nosed football player.

Comment by TX Panther 12.12.13 @ 8:07 am

Aaron Donald..a class act.

So proud of him in high school….@ Pitt. ….and we’ll be proud of him in the NFL, too. 🙂

Comment by The TRUTH 12.12.13 @ 8:14 am

OK, question for those of you who understand the rules.

If Baker Mayfield, who is a walk on with no scholarship, leaves Texas Tech and comes to Pitt, can he play right away or does he have to sit out a year?

H2P and H2AD

Comment by pmdH2P 12.12.13 @ 8:33 am

My guess would be that he can play ASAP

Comment by wbb 12.12.13 @ 9:44 am

Well said/written, Stoosh.

Comment by steve1 12.12.13 @ 10:18 am

@ Tx Panther, this comment is not to infer, in the least, any disrespect to Aaron Donald, but I wonder how much of a leader Aaron actually was for the Panthers. I don’t know the man personally, but in following him as a Pitt fan I always got the impression that he was a little introverted. If he did provide substantial leadership, it seems to me that it was the low profile type that involved “actions speaking louder than words”.

He stikes me as the kind of individual that simply out works everybody else and has overcome his lack of God given natural ability or physical gifts with unlimited training and dedication to a regimented work ethic. Now, how does that translate to providing inspiration and leadership to the rest of the team is my question? A fine example to be followed for sure, but it is wasted on those type individuals that fail to pay attention to the process involved in what it takes in the making of a champion like Donald has become.

For example, I doubt that Rushel Shell ever considered Aaron’s work ethic as a quality to be emulated and adapted into his own character, if you know what I mean?

Hopefully Chryst is filling the Panther ranks with the kind of kids that WILL appreciate the opportunity that they’ve had to share the weight room, practice field and locker room with such a rare individual as Aaron Donald though, because guys like him only come along rarely, even in the elite programs like the Ohio States and Alabamas.

Hard to beat a team that has a dedicated work ethic and perserverence, even when their overall talent level is less than ideal. I hope that the “Donald Factor” hangs around in the heads of the upcoming young bloods who were fortunate enough to personally know and play with the guy, if so, that can’t do anything but help the mindset of this team going forward.

Comment by Dr. Tom 12.12.13 @ 10:28 am

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