ST. LOUIS — Aaron Donald has been dreaming of playing in the NFL since he was 5. When he walked into the St. Louis Rams training facility Monday, it hit him that his dream had become a reality.
“I put forth the effort, worked my butt off on and off the football field, and it’s just paid off for me,” said the defensive tackle from Pitt Tuesday afternoon at Rams Park.
Donald added he is “real excited” to begin a new chapter of his life outside Pennsylvania.
“I’m pumped up about it and can’t wait to get out there and compete and show these guys what I can do,” he said.
A former all-state player for coach Ron Graham at Penn Hills High School, Donald, 22, was the second of two first-round picks the Rams made in the draft last week. The other was Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, the No. 2 overall selection. The Rams took Donald at No. 13.
“It was amazing when I came in the locker room and seen I had a locker with my name and number on it, it was official,” said Donald, who will wear No. 99. “It’s a dream come true. To see it all fall into place is just amazing.”
Donald and Robinson worked out together in Arizona as part of the predraft process, but Donald said the two never talked about winding up on the same team.
“It’s cool the way it worked out,” Donald added.
After playing in the Senior Bowl, going to the NFL combine, having his pro day at Pitt and traveling from city to city for team visits, Donald was relieved when the draft was over and he learned where his new home would be.
He solidified himself as a first-round choice with a dominating week at the Senior Bowl in January.
“That helped me a lot,” said Donald, who watched the draft with his family in Pittsburgh. “It’s always good to get out there and show you can play football on the field. It was another opportunity to play the game I love to play, so I just went out there and competed.”
The 6-foot-1, 285-pound Donald led the nation last year with 28.5 tackles for loss. His outstanding senior season at Pitt ended with him receiving the Bronko Nagurski Award, the Outland Trophy and the Rotary Lombardi Award.
He got better each year at Pitt, and the Rams are hopeful that trend will continue,
“Aaron is very, very productive; he’s an outstanding young man,” St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher said Thursday night after the Donald was chosen. “He’s way ahead in hand use on the line of scrimmage. He does an outstanding job with his hands.”
Donald and the rest of the rookie class arrived Monday in St. Louis. They met their respective position coaches and teammates and spent two days going through what Fisher called an orientation. The rookies will take the field Thursday for workouts and join the veterans next Monday as part of the offseason conditioning program.
Donald joins a talented defensive line loaded with first-round picks in defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn and fellow tackle Michael Brockers.
“I feel like I can do some things here with the players around me,” Donald said. “I’m excited about it.
“To have those veteran guys around me and I can learn from them, they can push me and help me take my game to another level. I’ve got to learn from those guys and earn their respect and show them what I can do on the football field.”