“You can’t play one thing,” Schlieper said. “One person has good speed. One person has good power. Let’s say you stop Aaron Donald’s speed, he’s just going to run you over so. He’s got everything.”
Including, perhaps, a darkhorse shot a picking up some Heisman Trophy votes. Already a finalist for every major award given to players at his position, Donald has been so impressive there has been a grassroots effort to get his name penciled in on a few Heisman ballots, an honor given almost exclusively to the top skill position player on one of the nation’s best teams.
Donald doesn’t fit the criteria. Neither does his team. Yet Pitt coach Paul Chryst points out Donald stacks up favorably to former Nebraska star Ndamukong Suh, who finished fourth in the 2009 Heisman race behind winner Mark Ingram.
Through this point in their respective seasons Donald has more tackles for loss and more sacks per game than Suh, who had the luxury of playing for marquee program that nearly knocked off eventual national runner-up Texas in the Big 12 title game. And Suh went off in that conference title game.
There will be no such spotlight for Pitt, which needs to beat the reeling Hurricanes (8-3, 4-3) to avoid a third consecutive 6-6 finish. Donald would prefer to go out on a high note and provide one more memory to remember the “brotherhood” he’s found with the Panthers.
Though he’s a near lock to go early in the NFL draft next spring, Donald refuses to give himself the chance to gaze that far down the road, pointing out “nothing is promised.”
Donald would know. He arrived at Pittsburgh four years ago as an undersized nose tackle whose only other real option was Toledo, where his older brother Archie played for the Rockets. He wasn’t supposed to evolve into the kind of disruptive force that leaves offensive coordinators grasping for ways to neutralize him. It happened anyway.
“I think this young man has really worked hard at his craft,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “I think that’s the thing I admire about him. He’s taken his talent and cultivated it into skill. The result is a heck of a football player.”
One that refuses to say he’s arrived even as the accolades continue to pile up as quickly as his eye-popping numbers.
“It’s my mindset that I’m not where I want to be,” Donald said. “I still want to be better, and I just want to stay humble about it. It’s not an act. It’s just how I am.”