Pitt’s Jaylen Twyman feels no pressure living up to Aaron Donald’s No. 97
George S. Patton is credited with saying it first while commanding U.S. troops in Europe during World War II.
“Pressure makes diamonds,” the famous American general once said as a way of praising his men who survived and thrived in tough times.
Many years later, Guy Young embellished those words and made the quote his own, passing it along to his son, Pitt defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman, who is surviving and thriving.
And that’s why Twyman said he won’t feel any pressure next Thursday night when he steps onto the turf at Heinz Field to face North Carolina with Pitt’s hopes for a repeat ACC Coastal championship at stake.
It might appear Twyman brought pressure upon himself this season when he decided to wear All-Pro defensive end Aaron Donald’s No. 97.
Twyman’s coaches back home in Washington D.C. wondered why Twyman wanted to paint a bull’s-eye on his back by wearing one of the most famous jersey numbers in Pitt history, right up there with Larry Fitzgerald’s No. 1, Dan Marino’s No. 13, Tony Dorsett’s No. 33 and seven other retired numbers.
“Pressure only busts pipes and makes diamonds,” Twyman said. “I got (the words) from my dad. That’s what our whole defense lives on. That’s why I wanted to wear that number.”
Twyman needed coach Pat Narduzzi’s blessing before he could change from No. 55 to 97, but that was no problem.
“He was all for it,” Twyman said. “He said my work ethic matched that number, so he said I could wear it.”
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett bonded with Twyman before the 2017 season when they met on a recruiting visit. He is not surprised Twyman believed he could live up to the number.
“You have to be the one who believes it before anybody else does,” Pickett said, “and I think he did.”
Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said he wouldn’t be surprised if Pitt soon might retire No. 97, too. Meanwhile, he said it’s in good hands with Twyman, who shares the team leads in sacks (seven) with defensive end Patrick Jones III. Pitt is tied with SMU for the NCAA lead with 40 sacks.
“I give Jaylen a lot of credit for taking the risk to step into that number because he knew what it meant,” Partridge said. “Jaylen’s the kind of guy, he wants that pressure on himself. He’s a tireless worker. I think he wanted to put that on himself so he could never relent.
“There are times I have to beg Jaylen to back off a little bit so I know his body is going to be ready on Saturdays. That’s how he’s wired, and he’s embraced it with everything he has.”
Donald will be back at Heinz Field on Sunday with the Los Angeles Rams as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, but his appearance in Pittsburgh is nothing new to the Pitt players. Donald regularly works out with them at the South Side training facility that bears his name.
Twyman first met Donald through Pitt safety Paris Ford.
“I told Paris (Donald) was my favorite player and he said, ‘Say no more,’ ” Twyman said.
“When I first saw him, I was star-struck. This is the dude I’ve been watching since I was in high school. I finally get to meet him. We just clicked.”
Jones had a similar reaction when Donald one day addressed the team.
“I said, ‘That’s Aaron Donald. He’s the best player in the world, and he’s right here.’ It just kept going through my head that I almost missed some of the information he was telling us,” Jones said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .