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Panthers DT Donald making reputation through strong play

| Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, 10:06 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Aaron Donald sacks Virginia QB David Watford in the first half on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Aaron Donald doesn't make every tackle.

In fact, six of his Pitt teammates — none of whom have the same combination of strength and determination — have brought down more ball carriers than their talented teammate.

Donald, however, makes his tackles count. Of his 19 in Pitt's first five games, 12 have resulted in a total loss of 80 yards, nearly a football field worth of turf.

And the people who follow college football — the ones who help build reputations for the best players — are starting to notice.

“Aaron Donald is a quick-twitched smart defensive tackle that identifies the ball well and makes lots of plays,” said talent scout Joe Butler of Metro Scouting Index. “Hard to find.”

Hard to contain, too.

Donald, who has been a fixture at Pitt since his freshman season of 2010, leads all FBS players in sacks and (1.6) tackles for loss (2.4) per game. ESPN.com and CBSSports.com released their midseason All-American teams Tuesday, and Donald's name appeared on both.

Mark Schlabach, a college football writer and analyst for ESPN.com, rates Donald as the second-best defensive player in the nation through the first half of the season. He lists only Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley ahead of Donald, who has at least one sack in every game (total of eight) and 12 tackles for a loss (tied with Beasley for the FBS lead).

Donald is quiet, almost shy, when he is asked about his physical gifts. He lets his play speak for him.

“I'm just going to go out there and fly around and make a lot of plays and give it all I got,” he said.

Donald began building his 6-foot, 285-pound frame into a solid mass of muscle while lifting weights with his father, Archie, in their Penn Hills home. Aaron often wakes his dad at dawn for their Saturday morning sessions, Pitt teammate Tyrone Ezell said.

Former Penn Hills coach Ron Graham said Donald was one of the strongest boys to walk the school's halls. Graham uses the disclaimer “one of” only because Pitt three-time All-American Bill Fralic also went to Penn Hills.

“When we had our sessions, he was no-nonsense, a very serious kid,” Graham said of Donald. “He was all business. He stayed focused on what he was doing.”

Ezell, who also lines up at tackle, said double teams often are useless against Donald.

“He has that ability to come off the ball as quick as he does and catch them off guard,” Ezell said. “He's in the backfield a lot more than I saw him last year.” Ezell, who is more than a year older than Donald, said he has improved his play just by watching his teammate.

“He never stops, he keeps his feet moving and his momentum going. I picked up on that a little bit. I use that to do my job.

“He's just strong. One of those strong, quick guys.”

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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