Former Pitt star Donald excited for Rams' move to L.A.

The Rams' Aaron Donald celebrates after making a sack against the Bears' Jay Cutler during the third quarter Nov. 15, 2015, in St. Louis.
The Rams' Aaron Donald celebrates after making a sack against the Bears' Jay Cutler during the third quarter Nov. 15, 2015, in St. Louis.
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| Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, 6:54 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — When you think of Aaron Donald, you think of a dominant football player. You think of one of the best young players in the league and a humble and hard-working individual.

What you don't think of from the guy who grew up in Penn Hills, played in college at Pitt and the first two years of his pro career in St. Louis is glitz and glamour.

That's all about to change, and Donald is looking forward to it.

The NFL approved the move of the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles last month meaning Donald now will be cruising down Rodeo Drive — quite a long way from Forbes and Fifth.

“It is going to be different being a Pittsburgh guy,” Donald said Thursday at Super Bowl 50 as he promoted the Mountain Dew Kickstart ad “Puppymonkeybaby.”

“I will get used to it. There will be a lot more opportunities for us out there in L.A. and a lot more exposure. I am excited about it, and it is a fresh start.”

But make no mistake about it, Donald isn't going to trade in his blue-collar work ethic for sunglasses and infinity scarves anytime soon.

Donald, who still considers himself a Pittsburgher and a Steelers fan, has gotten this far in such a short time with hard work and isn't about to change that even with the move to Los Angeles.

“I am just a humble person and that's just how I am,” Donald said. “I feel that no matter how much success I have or what's going on, that's just who I am as a person — humble and stay true to myself. I am not satisfied yet. I still have a lot more work to do before I am happy and excited about the things I have accomplished.”

Donald was not highly recruited out of Penn Hills but transformed himself into the most decorated athlete to play at Pitt despite questions surrounding his size.

At 6-foot-1, 285 pounds, Donald wasn't a prototypical defensive tackle in Division I, let alone the NFL. Still, the Rams took him in the first round in 2014, and Donald hasn't disappointed.

Donald has started 28 of 32 games and has 20 sacks in two years. Last year, he was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Saturday he could be named Defensive Player of the Year after a season in which he had 69 tackles and 11 sacks. His sack total tied for most in the league by a defensive tackle with the Bengals' Geno Atkins and the Panthers' Kawann Short, who will be playing in Sunday's Super Bowl 50.

Donald is a two-time Pro Bowler and made first-team All-Pro this year.

“He's a stud,” former Giants offensive lineman and NFL Network analyst Shaun O'Hara said. “I went to Rutgers and watched him single-handily destroy games in college. He is even better in the NFL. I am glad I don't have to block him.”

Donald's production has started to earn him credit as a viable top-tier player alongside the likes of J.J. Watt, who is widely considered the best defensive player in the NFL.

Donald said he wants to be the best who ever played the game and said he means no disrespect to those who played before him.

“To be a great football player, you have to have that mindset,” Donald said. “You talk about guys like John Randle, Warren Sapp, (former Rams defensive lineman) La'Roi Glover and respect them. But one day you want to be better than those guys. No disrespect, but you have to have that mindset you have to be a great football player. A guy like Warren Sapp is a Hall of Famer, and if you can top his numbers and God willing, one day I might be able to wear that jacket.”

Donald was able to mingle with some of the NFL's all-time best this week, including Sapp, who he said he grew up trying to emulate.

“To see all the hard work I put into the game and see it unfold and all the things that come with it has been a blessing,” Donald said. “I always say hard work pays off. To see it all unfold and see this thing come full circle is a real good feeling. This is what I dreamed about my entire life. It has been a great run so far. It is just getting started though.”

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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