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Pitt DT Donald's rise worth the weight

Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, 10:27 p.m.
Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald pursues Florida State's Jameis Winston on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field. Donald said his parents are more excited than he is after his sweep of four national defensive awards this week.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald pursues Florida State's Jameis Winston on Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field. Donald said his parents are more excited than he is after his sweep of four national defensive awards this week.

One day about a decade ago, Archie Donald returned to his Penn Hills home before anyone expected him, especially his youngest son, Aaron.

“He was riding his bike,” Archie said. “He had chores to do at home. All he had to do was take out the garbage and sweep down the steps. I came home, and I caught him.

“I said, ‘Every time I ask you do something, you always give me a half-hearted effort,' ” Archie said, recalling their conversation.

Displeased, Archie came up with a plan. He decided it was time to introduce Aaron to the potential inside the weight room in their home.

Aaron, though, didn't consider his dad's order a punishment. Turns out he took to weightlifting so well that he has become arguably the strongest defensive lineman in college football and the best Pitt football player since Larry Fitzgerald.

Archie said he told his then-12-year-old son, “You will start seeing a change in your body that will carry over to everything you do.”

“And that's exactly what it did,” Archie said. “Once you look good, you feel good.”

No one felt better this week than Archie Donald and Aaron's mother, Anita Goggins. They accompanied their son to college football award presentations in Charlotte, N.C., Houston and Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where Aaron won the Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik awards and the Outland Trophy. Other than Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh in 2009, no other player has won all four.

“They're probably more excited than me,” Aaron said, “and I don't know how that's possible.”

Said Anita: “It's just been a high you just can't come down (from).”

Archie said his son's journey started in the family weight room where he served as Aaron's lifting coach, rousing him out of bed at 4:45 a.m. so Aaron could finish his workout before school.

“My motto was, ‘While everyone else is sleeping, you're working,' ” Archie said.

Aaron Donald retained that work ethic through Penn Hills High School and his four-year Pitt career that concludes Dec. 26 in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. Donald, who is scheduled to graduate in the spring with a degree in communications, won't stop there: He plans to spend the first months of the new year working with a personal trainer while getting ready for the NFL Draft. ranks Donald the fifth-best available defensive tackle and projects he will be picked in the second round. Pitt hasn't had a player selected since 2011, when five were taken.

Donald, who led the nation with 26 12 tackles for a loss, mostly has been unblockable by one lineman this season. Most teams that kept him under control did so with two blockers.

Archie Donald is not surprised.

“From the time he put on helmets and shoulder pads (at age 6), he could not be blocked,” he said.

Donald always was bigger than most children his age, so when he was 6, he was playing with 8-year-olds. At age 9, he was matched against 13- and 14-year-olds, his father said.

“All that did was make him better,” Archie said. “He held his own, and now it's paying dividends.”

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

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