Donald wins ACC Defensive Player of Year
Pitt senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who embarks next week on a four-day, three-city tour of award banquets, received a nice send-off Wednesday when he was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
It's only fitting that Donald's honors are coming in a bunch, similar to his signature play of the season Sept. 21 against ACC Coastal Division champion Duke.
Late in the first quarter, Donald burst into the Blue Devils' backfield before center Matt Skura could get a firm hand on him. He wrapped both arms around quarterback Brandon Connette and running back Josh Snead — at the same time — for a loss of 4 yards.
At the time, Donald didn't recognize the amazing nature of the play. After all, it was just one of his 26 1⁄2 tackles for a loss, helping him lead the nation with an average of 2.2.
“You don't realize the things you do until you break down and watch the film,” he said. “It's exciting to see things like that.”
Donald, who is expected to be the first Pitt player in three years drafted by the NFL, received 44 of 65 votes from the ACC Sports Media Association. His closest competition was Wake Forest nose tackle Nikita Whitlock (10 votes).
Donald also was third in the ACC Player of the Year balloting with four votes, behind Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston (47) and Boston College running back Andre Williams (13).
He said rewards are “an honor and a blessing,” but he said he still has a lot of work to do.
“I will keep trying to work on my game,” he said.
Donald stayed productive despite being the target of numerous double-team blocks this season.
“It's part of the game,” he said. “I just have to be able to be better and become a better ballplayer.”
Donald, a Penn Hills graduate whose only other scholarship offers came from Rutgers, Akron and Toledo, said he has heard from several friends eager to congratulate him for his dominant season. One of those is his high school line coach, Demond Gibson, who also played at Pitt.
“He helped to form me as the player I am today,” Donald said.
At Georgia Tech, he totaled 11 tackles, six for a loss, including a sack. He also forced two fumbles. Three weeks later at Syracuse, he blocked an extra point in a one-point Pitt victory and recorded nine tackles, 3 1⁄2 for a loss, along with two quarterback hurries.
Pitt coach Paul Chryst has been impressed with Donald's consistency, which included 10 sacks in 12 games, fourth in the ACC.
“It's great to be able to talk about him,” said Chryst, who seldom singles out his players for praise. “He still keeps putting it out there.”
Chryst has been a player or a coach on the professional and collegiate levels for nearly 30 years, but he said he hasn't seen anyone more dominant than Donald.
“He is playing at as high a level as anyone I've been around, and I've been around some good ones.”
Donald is a finalist for four national awards that target defensive players and linemen. He will be in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday for the Nagurski, Houston on Wednesday for the Lombardi and Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Dec. 12 for the Outland and Bednarik awards.
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