After a whirlwind week around the country, Aaron Donald is now back in Pittsburgh with his team, getting ready to face Bowling Green in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl Dec. 26 in Detroit. Pitt's practices early this week are closed to the media, but we'll be able to attend later in the week, at which point I'll provide some team updates.
If you haven't already, check out my story from yesterday's Post-Gazette chronicling my time with Donald over the past week, as well as how he got to where he is today. Here are a few notes and outtakes that didn't make it into the story.
- Donald says he keeps in constant contact with his older brother, Archie, Jr., who played at Toledo and even got a couple of sniffs in the NFL. Much like Aaron, Archie is a bit of a perfectionist.
"We're the best of friends," Aaron said. "My brother constantly comments [on my games]. He breaks it down like he's watching himself. He breaks down and is like 'You had a good game, but you took this play off. You could've made this tackle if you would've run full speed.'"
- As anyone who knows him knows, Donald really isn't one to read his own press clippings, so to speak. He did say the one thing he really enjoys about being a star college football player is when he gets to interact with younger fans.
"The best thing is when kids come up to me and go, 'Are you Aaron Donald?' And they're excited to meet me and see me," he said. "I always enjoy that just to see that the kids are looking up to me. That's a great feeling to see that. I can't explain that. It's just a real good feeling to see the kids look up to me."
Donald got to enjoy some time with kids last week when he visited the Texas Children's Hospital as part of the Lombardi Award festivities.
Earlier this season, Donald got a hand-written letter from young fan in Louisiana requesting an autograph/
"As soon as I read it, I started writing him right back," Donald said. "I wrote him a letter, put a little card in there, signed it for him. It's a blessing, man, to see that kid looking up to me and cheering for me."
- Pitt coach Paul Chryst said the Panthers' recruits are aware of Donald's accomplishments, but he also didn't want to take advantage of Donald's hard work for recruiting purposes.
"First of all, it's an individual award," Chryst said. "Aaron earned this. Fortunately, for me personally, I was able to be a part of two of those years. I think, for the program, it just reinforces what's already happened in that you can accomplish anything at Pitt. You just look at the major awards. Heisman? Yeah, it's been done there. The Biletnikoff, Outland Trophy. I think it would be really wrong to grab the spotlight. Our guys know about it and the recruits will know about it, but it's about Aaron and what he did."
- Chryst didn't have one favorite moment from Donald's season, but pointed to the blocked extra point at Syracuse as a play that ended up deciding the game. He also enjoyed when Donald tackled both the quarterback and running back on a zone-read run at Duke.
"I don't think there is one," Chryst said. "If you were to say one picture that encompasses all of them, it'd be like the Duke one. It brings back the memories of the other ones. There's a lot of them."
- Chryst has talked a lot this year about the benefits of Donald being one of the hardest workers on the team, as well as one of its most talented players. In our conversation this week, Chryst specifically brought it up with regards to a player who I think will end up being pretty good on Pitt's defense: Darryl Render.
"Darryl Render sees it every day, and I think Darryl's smart enough to pick up on it," Chryst said. "It's good that way."
Render will likely fill Donald's position at defensive tackle next season, and while he obviously won't replace Donald's production, I think he has shown at the end of this season that he has potential to be a very good defensive lineman.
- As far as the comparisons go, Chryst compared Donald to J.J. Watt (who Chryst coached at Wisconsin) and Donald's high school defensive line coach Demond Gibson compared him to former NFL defensive tackle La'Roi Glover.
- When I talked to former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, he compared Donald to former Pitt running back Dion Lewis, in terms of recruiting profile. Neither guy had the ideal physical characteristics for the position, but in both cases, the production outweighed the measurables. Wannstedt also said Donald's work ethic was immediately evident.
"He was one that always enjoyed the weight room, he always enjoyed working out," Wannstedt said. "Back then, with our strength coach Buddy Morris, if you didn't you didn't last long. He was always one of Buddy's favorites in terms of work ethic and the kind of attitude he had."
- Wannstedt was confident Donald would find a niche in the NFL. In fact, Wannstedt pointed to Buccaneers defensive tackle Akeem Spence (who is just a hair taller than Donald and a little bit heavier) as an example that a guy that size can make it. The Bucs drafted Spence in the fourth round last year, and he developed into a starter for them along the defensive line.