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Pitt's Donald catching eye of some Heisman voters

| Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, 9:54 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Aaron Donald plays against North Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Aaron Donald presures North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams in the first quarter Saturday Nov. 16, 2013 at Heinz Field.

Hugh Green speaks without a trace of bitterness in his voice. When he talks about a pure defensive player's chances of winning the Heisman Trophy — someone such as Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald — his tone is one of resignation and acceptance.

“Everybody loves offensive players,” said Green, the former Pitt defensive end who is one of only two players in 78 years to finish second in the Heisman voting while playing only defense.

The only defensive player to win college football's most prestigious individual trophy was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, who also was an accomplished kick returner, in 1997.

“Is it fair? No, it's not fair,” said Green, who was second to South Carolina running back George Rogers in 1980. “If I'm a running back, I have a chance to make a play (on multiple snaps). If I'm a defensive player, I have designated (offensive) plays called away from me.”

Thanks to Donald's emergence as one of the best — if not the best — defensive player in college football, the issue could emerge before this year's winner is announced Dec. 14 in New York City.

Donald is a finalist for the Nagurski, Lombardi, Outland and Bednarik awards and will visit three cities in five days while attending each ceremony, including the ESPN Home Depot Show on Dec. 12 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. He's a longshot to be invited to New York, but three college football analysts have mentioned Donald as a darkhorse Heisman candidate.

Falloff last weekend by quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel and leading contender Jameis Winston's pending legal problems have left many voters unsure.

“If I had to vote this weekend, I would have (Donald) in my top three,” Bruce Feldman, senior college football columnist for CBS Sports, told the Tribune-Review on Monday. “I have to admit I'm a creature of the moment. When it shakes out, I probably wouldn't at the end.”But he added, “I don't know what is going to happen with Winston, but you can make a case that Donald is the most outstanding.”

Chris Huston, a writer for NBCSports.com who has been labeled by Sports Illustrated as a Heisman authority, calls Donald's chances “very slim, very remote.”“He would have to have a ridiculous game to finish out (Friday against Miami on national television) and it would have to require some other candidates, even more than they already have, to fall by the wayside.”But he added, “If Manti Te'o can finish second last year, I don't see how the same (voters) cannot consider Aaron Donald.”

Previously, Huston wrote, “Forget (South Carolina defensive end) Jadeveon Clowney. He's been all hype up to this point. When it comes to picking the best defensive player in college football, it all begins and ends with the Panthers' No. 97.”

Feldman and Huston said they voted Donald for the Lombardi, which goes to the best lineman or linebacker.

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated mentioned Donald “in my annual push for a defensive candidate.”

Donald leads the nation in per-game tackles for a loss (2.4) and is 10th in sacks (.91). His performance against Syracuse — nine tackles, 3 12 for a loss, two quarterback hurries and a blocked extra point in a one-point victory — earned defensive player of the week honors from the ACC, Walter Camp Foundation and Lott IMPACT.

Donald, who remains humble and unimpressed by his efforts, said former Pitt players Dorin Dickerson and Bill Fralic recently reached out to him with congratulatory messages.

“It's amazing these guys know who I am,” he said.

Donald insists he's only scratched the surface of his potential.

“I feel like I missed a lot of plays (against Syracuse),” he said.

Asked if he wants to make every tackle, Donald said, simply, “If I can.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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