St. Louis Rams select Pitt's Donald 13th overall
No one figured Aaron Donald's aura of toughness could disappear so quickly.
But that's what happened Thursday night after the St. Louis Rams used their first-round draft choice (13th overall) to make the Pitt All-American defensive tackle a very happy and — eventually — a very rich man.
Donald is the first Pitt player drafted in the first half of the first round since wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was taken third by the Arizona Cardinals in 2004.
“I tried to hold the tears in, but I just melted,” said Donald, speaking to reporters at Savoy on Penn Avenue while holding his 1-year-old daughter Jaeda, his fiancee Jaelynn Blakey by their side. “It's just amazing that this dream came true. It's crazy, crazy.
“I'm an NFL football player. Something I've been dreaming about since I was 5.”
Donald said when Rams coach Jeff Fisher tried to call him as the team made the pick, the call dropped off his cell phone three times. All the while, Donald tried to remain calm, but he failed at that, too.
“Look at me. I'm drenched with sweat,” he said.
Fisher almost couldn't believe his good fortune.
“We were rubbing a lucky coin and he was there,” he said.
Said general manager Les Snead: “We were jacked he was there.”
When the news finally came across TVs behind the crowded Savoy bar, patrons reacted in much the same way, a loud cheer erupting from Donald's assembled family and friends.
The Rams were one of only three teams that invited Donald for a visit after the NFL Combine. They had the NFL's ninth-ranked run defense and were third in sacks (53) last season, but they believe Donald's quickness off the snap can make them even better. Donald recorded 281⁄2 tackles for a loss for Pitt last year.
“They are looking for another inside pass rusher and I can be that guy,” he said.
The Rams were not turned off by Donald's lack of ideal height and weight at 6-foot-1, 285 pounds.
“His game is not size; his game is speed, quickness,” Snead said.
Donald, 22, is the first Pitt player drafted since 2011 when the Panthers sent five to the NFL, led by wide receiver Jon Baldwin (first round, 26th pick, by the Kansas City Chiefs). He is the 25th Pitt first-round choice, dating to Chicago Bears tight end Mike Ditka in 1961.
Dressed in a flannel shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, Donald and his family arrived at Savoy in a black Range Rover, driven by close friend Chuckie Sanders.
“This is the second-most exciting day of my life,” he said, assuring everyone that Jaeda's birth was No. 1.
Savoy lacked only a red carpet. Friends and family of Pitt's highly decorated All-American stopped for several photo sessions before going inside to watch the proceedings in a private room.
Donald's mother, Anita Goggins, accompanied by his father, Archie Donald, claimed to be calm.
“I'm not nervous anymore,” she said. “Last night, my heart was beating so fast it woke me up.”
Donald said he didn't know when the Rams wanted him to fly to St. Louis, but he did say, “They want me soon.”He said he's looking forward to playing football again after weeks of workouts and hype.
“I have to start all over from scratch, earn respect, earn the trust, and I'm just ready to do it.
“I have a lot more work to do,” he said. “I want to be great.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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