Former Pitt great Aaron Donald wants to remain humble
When Aaron Donald wants to work out at Pitt’s South Side facility – and that’s almost every day – he calls ahead.
“I just want to make sure I’m not in the way,” he said.
The two-time defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year and one of the most decorated Pitt players of all-time probably won’t stop making the calls. Even though he has his own locker in the Duratz Athletic Complex and the first floor has been renamed the Aaron Donald Football Performance Center.
Pitt bestowed that honor on Donald on Friday when he made a historic seven-figure contribution to the Pitt Football Championship Fund. Donald’s donation is the all-time largest by a Pitt football letterman.
“This is the city where I was born and raised, the university where I played football and grew up watching,” said Donald, a Penn Hills graduate.
Donald signed a six-year, $135 million contract with the Los Angeles Rams days before the start of the 2018 season. A total of $87 million was guaranteed, including a $40 million signing bonus.
He missed the entirety of Rams training camp in a holdout, but he worked out every day at Pitt’s facility until he signed the contract.
Donald said he talked with Pitt officials years ago about making a donation to the football program.
“We were waiting for certain things to happen, the second contract,” he said. “After that happened, we sat down and talked and figured out a plan.”
Donald met with reporters before the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday at Heinz Field where he served as an honorary coach, with former Pitt running back LeSean McCoy. He sounded as grateful for having the ability to make the donation as athletic director Heather Lyke was in receiving it.
“The opportunity to do certain things I did for the university is a blessing,” he said. “You never dream this big. This is past what I ever expected.”
Donald, who was lightly recruited in high school, played for three Pitt coaches from 2010-2013 – Dave Wannstedt, Todd Graham and Paul Chryst.
“I learned from three different coaches, pick different coaches minds, learn different schemes,” he said. “Every coach coaches different. They helped mold me into who I am today.
“I wouldn’t be here today without the University of Pittsburgh. They took a chance on me when a lot of people didn’t want to.”
When he works out with current members of the team, he said he tries to teach them the value of hard work.
“I play around with them and joke with them, just like I’m on the current team with them,” he said. “They see me every single day. If they have questions to ask, they come up to me and ask me, whether it’s about football, about life. I’m here.”
Former Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd, one of 75 alums who attended the spring game, said of Donald, “He’s a god around here. I have to show him the love.”
“I’m just a guy working with those guys,” Donald said. “We’re brothers. Once you commit to the University of Pittsburgh, it’s in your blood.”
He never played for coach Pat Narduzzi, but he said he has always been welcome.
“I feel like I played with him four years.”
When Donald was told he’s bigger in Los Angeles than the Lakers’ LeBron James, he responded, “Stop that.”
But it’s probably true. Donald was in the Super Bowl; the Lakers didn’t qualify for the NBA playoffs.
He doesn’t live in L.A. in the off-season, he said, because “This is home.”
“I love L.A., but Pittsburgh is home. This is what molded me, made me who I am.”
He also continues to work with his trainer since high school, Dewayne Brown, and Pitt’s strength coach Dave Andrews, who wasn’t on the staff when Donald played.
“I’ve seen the change in my body, (with the trainers) pushing me to do things I didn’t expect myself to do.
“The root where it all started, that’s where you want to go, keep me humble, keep me grounded.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .