Pitt Honors Donald with Renamed Performance Center

LA Rams defensive end gave seven-figure donation to football program fund

Josh Rowntree
June 19, 2019 - 8:20 pm
LA Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (green) at dedication of Aaron Donald Football Performance Center in June 2019

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan

During the summer months, Aaron Donald will text Pitt football coaches and ask them if its okay for him to come and work out at the team’s practice facility. 

It might be a bit awkward now, however, when Donald asks to work out in a facility named after himself. 

Donald, behind a historic seven-figure financial donation to the Pitt Football Championship Fund, was honored Wednesday evening by having the lower level of the South Side facility named the Aaron Donald Football Performance Center.

“I tried to hold back some tears,” said Donald, a defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams who is considered by many as the NFL’s best defensive player. “My chest started getting a little warm, eyes started watering. I never would’ve thought this would even be possible to give back and do something like this. I can’t fit it into words really. It’s just crazy, it’s a blessing and I’m just honored.”

Donald, a Penn Hills High School graduate who was a unanimous All-American at Pitt, has remained an active figure in the Western Pennsylvania sports community. He will host a camp this weekend for youth athletes. 

“I love Pittsburgh,” he said. “This is where I was born and raised at. It’s a great University. They allow me to train here and use everything like I was still here playing with them. This is where I’m comfortable at. This is where it all started. It keeps me grounded, keeps me pushing.”

In four years with the Panthers, Donald recorded 181 tackles with 66 for loss, as well as 29.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. He won the Lombardi Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Outland Trophy, while being a two-time first-team All-Conference selection. 

“Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to coach this guy,” said Pitt football coach Pat Narduzzi. “But he’s a Panther forever. He’s a guy that, since the first day I got here, our kids have had an opportunity to watch him work, to watch him interact with our players and be around our players, bringing them in as part of the family.

“Now, each day that our players walk down this hallway and our coaches walk through this facility, they’ll be reminded of the craft and dedication that he’s had to his game of football and what he’s put into it.”

Donald’s collegiate accomplishments, though hard to believe, have been surpassed in the NFL. A first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Donald has made five Pro Bowls, been a four-time first-team All-Pro and has twice been named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. 

“I think about two words, aspire and inspire,” Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke said to Donald. “When you think about the word ‘aspire,’ it’s really about the individual effort that you have put in… you have given our student athletes, our young kids, an opportunity to aspire to be like you.

“The word ‘inspire’ really is about bringing everybody into the mix. That’s why you all are here, because you’re inspired by what Aaron has done. I am, as well.”

Donald was rated a three-star recruit when leaving Penn Hills. Often thought to be undersized for a defensive tackle position, Donald carved his way to the top of the collegiate and pro game by using speed and power. 

Now he hopes other young men are able to follow his lead. 

“It’s not always about football,” Donald said. “We’re on a platform and kids look up to us. The way we carry ourselves, they’re going to imitate that.

“When I’m no longer around, no longer doing anything, I’ll be leaving a legacy behind that’s going to be around forever. One day, 20 years from now, or 15 or whatever, they’re going to see that name and be like ‘who’s that?’ Then they’ll see the history of that and that’s the thing that makes you proud.”

Donald’s name was already linked to Pitt’s football program and would have been for a long time. But the permanence of a physical structure, one that countless student-athletes will utilize in the future, resonated with Donald. 

“This means everything to me,” he said. “This is the school that I watched on TV as a kid and I dreamed about playing for. 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 a story better than that.”

Hear all of what Aaron Donald had to say below.