CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Aaron Donald called it the perfect birthday present for his father.
The University of Pittsburgh senior defensive tackle won the Bronko Nagurski award given to the nation’s top college defensive player.
The 6-foot, 285-pound Donald, a Pittsburgh native and graduate of Penn Hills High School, was presented the award at a ceremony Monday night in Charlotte.
The ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Donald averaged 2.2 tackles for loss per game while ranking 10th in forced fumbles and 13th in sacks per game.
He had 28½ sacks for his career with one game left to play.
“I’m just so excited,” Donald said. “I think it is a great way for my father to celebrate his birthday. And I think it’s huge for the University of Pittsburgh. There were so many people wishing me well.”
His father, Archie, turned 48 on Monday.
He was in the audience Monday night to see his son accept the award.
Donald beat out four other finalists for the award: Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Florida State linebacker Lamarcus Joyner, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and Missouri defensive end Michael Sam.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly earlier this year called Donald a “one-man wrecking crew.”
“You have a powerful guy, but he’s also extremely quick at the point of attack,” Kelly said.
Donald’s best game came against Georgia Tech when he had six tackles for a loss — the most by an FBS player this season — and 11 tackles overall. He also had two sacks against Virginia.
He also had nine tackles and 3½ tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries against Syracuse. He also blocked a PAT which proved to be the decisive point in a 17-16 Pitt victory.
“My mentality is to just go 100 miles per hour every play,” Donald said. “I went out there and did the job. We felt short a few times, but you can’t win them all. I think it is a great reward for all of the hard work I’ve put in.”
Said North Carolina coach Larry Fedora: “He’s got that motor that never quits.”