NFL COMBINE

Penn Hills graduate and Pitt standout has sights set on NFL



TEMPE, Ariz. — It isn’t enough that Aaron Donald won every conceivable award a defensive lineman can capture in college football. Or that the former Pitt star was named the defensive player of the year for the 2013 season, not just in the ACC but the entire nation, as well.

After an offseason hardware sweep that was unprecedented in Pitt history, Donald doesn’t want to stop there. The record-setting and decorated defensive tackle from Penn Hills High School, wants to do more.

And he wants to do it this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the next and likely last step for the undersized but highly productive Donald before he becomes the property of some NFL team.

“At the end of the day, I want to make myself a great football player, not just a good football player,” Donald said. “I want to run low times. When they see me run at 290 pounds, I want people to see me, like, ‘He’s a ballplayer.’ ”

Hasn’t he done that already?

Despite playing on a 7-6 Pitt team that allowed 41 or more points three times last season, Donald won every major award for which he was a candidate — the Bronko Nagurski Award (nation’s top defensive player), Lombardi Award (nation’s top lineman) and the Outland Trophy (nation’s top interior lineman). He is only the fourth player to win the Outland and Nagurski trophies in the same season.

Donald did so after a dominating season in which he led the country with 28.5 tackles for loss, a fitting end to a career in which he totaled 29.5 sacks, tops among active players in Division I-A.

Not bad for a player who was offered a scholarship by only Pitt, Toledo and Akron.

“I passed my expectations,” Donald said, laughing. “I would have never thought in a million years I’d win one of them, let alone four of them.

“I always felt like I had the talent to do that, but I always thought I would be overlooked. To see that I accomplished something amazing is amazing. When I’m long done, my picture is always going to be at that Pitt facility by the Mark Mays, the Bill Fralics, the Hugh Greens, the Tony Dorsetts. That’s an amazing feeling, being a Pitt kid, being a part of history and getting to continue my football career.”

Donald has spent the past month training at the Athletes Performance Institute, which prepares prospective NFL players for the scouting combine and NFL draft. He is coming off a impressive performance at the Senior Bowl in which several NFL coaches and scouts said none of the top offensive lineman in the country could handle him in one-on-one pass-blocking drills.

He has a chance to open more eyes at the combine, which could help offset the one negative NFL scouts have of him — lack of height. Donald is slightly under 6 feet 1 and weights 290 pounds.

“I just went out there and played and competed with some of the best in college football,” Donald said about the Senior Bowl. “A lot of people said they liked my performance, but I still can improve.

“They’re going to go on film from the regular season, but they want to see you go against different competition, see how you move and see how you work up to the combine. I’m just going out [to Indianapolis] to compete and do what I do and at the end of the make myself a great football player and, hopefully, open the eyes of a lot of scouts.”

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock lists Donald as the third-best defensive tackle in the draft, behind Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III and Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan, heading into the combine. Mayock said he thinks Donald deserves to be a first-round pick.

“I loved him at the Senior Bowl,” Mayock said during a conference call. “He’s explosive and quick. The problem with short defensive tackles is if they don’t win with quickness, they can get stuck on blocks. But he’s quick and he’s tough.”

Donald trains twice a day — 90-minute sessions in the morning and afternoon — six days a week at API, a private personalized training center that includes a massive weight room, football field, swimming pool and running track. He works mainly on speed and strength and preparing for the positions drills for which he will be tested at the combine.

What time does Donald think he can run at the combine?

“I know what I can run, but I’m not going to say it,” Donald said. “I want everyone to tune in.”

After what happened his senior season at Pitt, why would anyone doubt him?


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.

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