PITTSBURGH (AP) — Aaron Donald received an invitation to sit backstage at Radio City Music Hall during the first round of next week’s NFL draft, just like every other highly ranked prospect.
Sorry, but the prospect of putting on a fancy suit and sweating under the spotlight didn’t appeal to the All-American defensive tackle.
Maybe it’s because he doesn’t really care when his name is called. Maybe it’s because the couch in his family’s suburban Pittsburgh home is simply more comfortable.
Or maybe it’s because Donald isn’t much on glitz and glamour. That’s just never been his way.
It wasn’t when he arrived on the Pittsburgh campus four years ago as a 6-foot, 285-pound nose tackle considered too small to thrive at college football’s highest level. It wasn’t last fall when he put together one of the most dominant seasons in recent history, winning every major award for a player at his position and skyrocketing up NFL draft boards in the process.
In Donald’s mind, he hasn’t changed a bit. He always knew he could play. All he needed was a chance to prove it. Why should the NFL be any different?
“Between the combine, the Senior Bowl and other meetings, I’ve talked with every team in the league,” Donald said. “But it really doesn’t matter which team picks me in the draft. I just want a chance to show what I can do.”
Various mock drafts have Donald going anywhere from the Detroit Lions at No. 10 to the New England Patriots at No. 29, if he lasts that long.
Other possible destinations are the New York Giants at No. 12, St. Louis Rams at No. 13, Chicago Bears at No. 14 and Miami Dolphins at No. 19. Though Donald projects to be a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme, he believes he’s shown the ability to move around if necessary.
“I’ve got experience at every position,” Donald said. “I’ve played nose tackle. I’ve played 3-technique, and I’ve played defensive end. I played in the 3-4 and I played a (4-3). So, I’ve got experience at every position. That’s definitely a plus for me. … That means they can trust me that I’ll fit into any position on their team on the D-line.”
Wherever he’s put, Donald figures he’ll just do what he’s always done and try to outwork the guy lining up across from him.
“A lot of teams just like the way I play the game: hard,” Donald said. “I’m a high-motor guy that’s always playing at a hundred miles an hour. So, it’s always good to be noted for that. So, I constantly keep working at what I’m doing and trying to become a better football player.”
There were few better in the country last year. Despite facing frequent double-teams, Donald spent Saturday after Saturday putting on a show. He led the nation with 28.5 tackles for loss while finishing with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles.
It led to an avalanche of postseason awards. Donald won the Outland Trophy as well as the Bednarik, Nagurski and Lombardi Awards. Suddenly, Donald found himself spending the spring of 2014 going through countless job interviews with NFL teams.
“Anything they wanted to know, I told them,” Donald said. “I told them about the knowledge that I learned from playing football and going to Pitt and the way I play the game. (And) I always have to bring up my pingpong skills.”
Donald’s hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes are on display during table tennis, but what else can he show?
“I’m constantly grinding and working hard, doing what I’ve got to do,” Donald said. “I’ve trained hard to this point, so my main focus now is trying to get with a team, to get in there and do what I’ve got to do to make the team, and then have great success afterward. And I’ll never stop working.”