AARON DONALD, after the unveiling of the new “Aaron Donald Football Performance Center” at Pitt’s practice facility, June 19. (Photos courtesy Pitt Athletics)
by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
The theme song to the iconic TV sitcom “Cheers” states that a person wants to be “where everybody knows your name.”
For Aaron Donald, that will never be a problem.
How about 100 million viewers watching Donald star as a defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII (53) this past February…
He’s a five-time NFL Pro Bowl selection…
A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year…
He led the NFL in sacks last season with 20.5…
And now, his name is tattooed on the front and back of the University of Pittsburgh’s practice facility on the South Side.
It proudly says, the “Aaron Donald Football Performance Center,” unveiled at a much-heralded ceremony, June 19.
Donald starred for the Panthers from 2010-13, winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2013, his senior season. Overall, Donald racked up 29.5 sacks and 181 tackles as a Panther.
Even more sweet for Pittsburghers, Donald knows his way around town—he’s a Steel City native who later played football for Penn Hills High School.
Drafted thirteenth overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by the then-St. Louis Rams, Donald has ascended into the league’s best defensive linemen by most expert accounts. Some say he’s the best overall defensive player in the league.
The Rams had no choice but to pay the man after Donald’s prolonged holdout in the summer of 2018. The Brinks truck backed up into Donald’s driveway to the tune of $135 million over six years, making Donald the highest-paid defensive player in league history.
In April, at age 28, Donald made a $1 million donation to Pitt, becoming the youngest seven-figure donor in university history.
“It was a dream come true to play for the University of Pittsburgh,” Donald said in a statement at the time. “My experience as a Panther is something that influences my life every day and I want to pay that forward. I believe in what coach (Pat) Narduzzi is building at Pitt and this was an opportunity for me to make a difference for our current and future players. Pitt will always be my school and I’m honored to be able to support the Blue and Gold.”
Two months later, Donald saw his name in a way he’d never seen it before. Every Pitt player, coach, administrator, trainer, equipment specialist, doctor, etc., will see Donald’s name. Future players, five, ten years down the road, will see Donald’s name as they work out, practice, get stronger in the gym, doing whatever it takes to make it to the NFL one day, like Donald.
Even when the Rams’ public address announcer introduces Donald to 70,000 fans in L.A. as Donald storms out the tunnel, his name under the lights on the national stage, what happened at Pitt on June 19 is different. It almost made Donald come to tears.
“This is home,” Donald said. “This is the school that I watched on TV as a kid and dreamed about playing for, so for it to be here in my hometown, at a university that I grew up cheering for and wanting to play for, and coming full circle how it did, you can’t write that story no better than that.”
Without Pitt, and former head coach Dave Wannstedt, whom Donald said, “took a chance on me,” the NFL may not have been in Donald’s cards. He wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school, but Pitt saw something in him.
And Donald, who picked Pitt over Rutgers, Toledo and Akron, saw something in the Panthers.
Fast forward to today. Everyone knows Aaron Donald’s name.
“I love Pittsburgh, this is where I’m born and raised,” Donald said. “I never would have thought this would even be possible, for me to give back and do something like this. You can’t put it in words, really. It’s crazy, it’s a blessing and I’m honored.”
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