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Pitt expects more from All-American candidate Donald

| Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Pitt's Aaron Donald plays against Louisville on October 2012 at Heinz Field.

The play was impressive but just one of many in a largely forgettable football season at Penn Hills High School.

Today, former Penn Hills coach Ron Graham just shrugs his shoulders at the ferocity shown by defensive tackle Aaron Donald during his prep career. After all, Graham had seen it so many times that it was merely normal.

“He was unblockable as a young guy,” Graham said. “He was not to be denied.”

The Donald play that Graham likes to recall was a good indicator of his potential and a scouting report on what to expect.

Penn Hills was 4-5 but looking to upset Upper St. Clair in the first round of the 2009 WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. But in the fourth quarter, Penn Hills' 14-7 lead was in peril.

“They were moving into scoring position,” Graham said of his opponent. “Fourth down and inches.”

No problem. Donald defeated a double team, made a big play in the backfield, and the game was over.

Graham, a Penn Hills graduate, puts Donald in an exclusive group of similarly talented linemen at the school: Bill Fralic, who was an All-Pro in the NFL before Pitt retired his number; and Demond Gibson, who also played at Pitt and later coached Donald at Penn Hills.

“That's a good legacy of guys,” Graham said.

One month before the start of Pitt training camp, preseason honors are pouring in for Donald, who has been named All-American by two magazines (Lindy's and Phil Steele) and All-ACC by those two plus Athlon and Sporting News.

“I'm excited about it, but I still have to go out there and play football,” he said.

And so much more.

This season, Pitt needs Donald's ability to set a good example as much as his muscle.

“He's definitely not a talker,” junior linebacker Todd Thomas said. “He leads by working hard and just doing what you have to do.”

Donald, 22, admits to his “laid-back” nature, but he said he won't hesitate to evolve into a vocal leader if necessary. Teammates — and opponents — will be wise not to make him mad.

“They ask me questions; I try to give them feedback,” he said of younger Pitt players. “If they are slacking, I'm going to say something about it.

“If I see that somebody needs help or needs me to say something to them, I'm going to be that person to do that.”

Pitt will open training camp Aug. 6 at its Sports Performance Complex on the South Side.

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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