Off the field, Aaron Donald is a quiet, humble, unassuming 22-year-old.
Once he steps between the white lines, though, something clicks and Donald turns into a defensive monster capable of wreaking havoc on opposing offenses.
“I’m a different person on the field,” Donald said. “I just go out there, try to fly around. I’m a different man.”
That alter-ego was on full display Saturday night, when Donald racked up 11 tackles (all solo), six for a loss, a sack and two forced fumbles in Pitt’s loss to Georgia Tech.
For that performance, Donald was named the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive lineman of the week.
“There’s no better way than to have his actions speak,” coach Paul Chryst said. “Not just with his play — and he is playing at a really high level — but also with his preparation, the way he competes in practice, the way he goes about things every day. I think he’s a tremendous example to our young guys about how to approach it and how that translates in the game.”
Donald has 36 tackles on the season, including 19.5 for a loss. He leads Division I-A in tackles for loss per game (2.4) and ranks third in sacks per game (1.1). He has appeared on virtually every national midseason All-American team and is a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award and Lott IMPACT Trophy, both given to the best defensive player nationally.
Chryst and Donald said teams have started to scheme around the Penn Hills graduate’s ability in the middle of the defensive line, but he has made his presence felt despite that.
“The good thing about the way that he plays is that he’s able to affect the play whether it’s going to him or away from him,” Chryst said. “I thought that’s what stood out to me with his production the last couple weeks. He’s a special player. I love the way he’s approaching it and we need him to continue to be even more special.”
No love lost
As the Panthers prepare to take on Notre Dame this weekend, sophomore tight end J.P. Holtz didn’t make any attempt to hide his feelings toward the Irish.
“Personally, I don’t like Notre Dame at all,” Holtz said.
“I just think they’re really cocky and their coaches are really cocky. I just don’t like that.”
Holtz said he took a recruiting to visit to Notre Dame while he was at Shaler High School. According to Rivals.com, he never receiver a scholarship offer from the Irish.
“It’s awesome up there, but just not somewhere I would want to go to school,” he said.
Offensive line on the mend
Chryst was optimistic that left tackle Adam Bisnowaty and left guard Cory King would return to action this week.
Both missed the game against Georgia Tech, and King has not played the past three weeks.
“Cory did some things last week and got through the confidence factor as much as anything,” Chryst said. “I would anticipate him doing more this week.”
North Carolina time set
The ACC announced Pitt’s Nov. 16 game against North Carolina at Heinz Field will kick off at 12:30 p.m. and be televised on the ACC Network. Local distribution is still to be determined.
It will be Pitt’s third 12:30 p.m. kickoff of the season.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.