Aaron Donald still calls Pittsburgh home. The Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year returns to Penn Hills and visits the Pitt football program any chance he can get, training at the performance center that bears his name thanks to a seven-figure donation this year.
Heck, Donald was back on the South Side last week when the Rams had a few days off on their bye, and he crossed paths with some of the Pittsburgh Steelers players he will face on Sunday at Heinz Field.
Yet, when Donald returns this weekend, a reunion will be the last thing on his mind. As much as he cherishes his family time and a chance to catch up with old friends Saturday after the Rams charter arrives, his attention will be centered on the 4:25 p.m. kickoff Sunday.
“It’s a business trip,” Donald said Thursday night on a conference call with Tribune-Review reporters. “I’m going to Pittsburgh to play a game and try to come away with a win. I’m going to get to see my family, get some hugs and kisses, but at the end of the day, I’m there to play a game.
“That is my main focus: to help my team win the game.”
A year removed from playing in the Super Bowl, the Rams are 5-3 and occupy third place in the NFC West, trailing the unbeaten San Francisco 49ers (8-0) and Seattle Seahawks (7-2). A third consecutive win for the Rams would help their wild-card positioning and keep their division title hopes alive. Standing in their way is his hometown team, the Steelers, who have won three in a row and are 4-4.
For Donald, 28, it will be his first visit to Heinz Field since 2013, his senior season at Pitt.
“To be back trying to play the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team I grew up watching and cheering for and playing at a field I played at in college, is definitely going to be cool,” Donald said.
He just has to make sure he heads to the correct locker room when entering the facility.
“It’s going to be different,” Donald said. “I’m the away guy now.”
To help accommodate the ticket requests Donald has gotten, he said the Pitt athletic department has provided a “little box so my family can be there, not too many.” The rest of his cheering section will sit in the stands.
Donald was asked about his visit last week to UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, which houses the Aaron Donald Performance Center in the Pitt portion of the facility. He was there Thursday and Friday, his visit coinciding with the Steelers conducting practice for their game last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.
Donald said it didn’t make for an awkward encounter.
“It wasn’t like I was taking notes and sitting there watching practice,” he said. “I was in there working myself. It’s just normal. That might be a thing to everybody else, but to me it’s normal. When I go back to Pitt, that’s where I train and it happened to be right there where the Steelers were.
“I have a great relationship with some of the players, and I feel like I have a good relationship with Coach (Mike) Tomlin.”
Other items Donald touched on in his 10-minute interview:
• On his motivation after winning the past two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards and playing in a Super Bowl: “I’m just not satisfied. I don’t feel like I’ve done enough yet. There’s always room for improvement. That’s my mindset. Try to do more and get back to the Super Bowl and win this time. That’s my main goal: to win a world championship.”
• On his uptick in sacks in recent weeks (Donald has four over the past three games, giving him five for the season): “Other guys are making plays and giving me an opportunity. I’m going to get attention, but you can’t do it every single play. There will be times when I get opportunities with my one-on-ones, and I have to take advantage of it, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”