Pitt’s Donald Deserved More
By BJ Bennett
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When the Heisman Trophy was being presented in New York City, Pitt's Aaron Donald watched from home.
There were six deserving finalists at the 2013 Heisman Trophy presentation at the Downtown Athletic Club Saturday night; each of them played in the offensive backfield. Winner Jameis Winston of Florida State and runner-up A.J. McCarron from Alabama joined Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who took home the award last season, and Jordan Lynch from Northern Illinois as quarterbacks in attendance. Boston College's Andre Williams and Tre Mason from Auburn represented as running backs. As usual, no defensive player was included.
Back in the summer, it looked as if Jadeveon Clowney was set to break the mold. The all-everything end from South Carolina had perhaps history's top highlight bolstering his brand and was coming off of 13 sacks his sophomore year. Injuries and an overall slip in production removed Clowney from consideration early. From there, it appeared, the momentum for a non-traditional Heisman Trophy candidate had faded.
Perhaps the proper pre-season attention wasn't there. Maybe Pittsburgh's didn't have enough of a national profile. With that acknowledged, Panther defensive tackle Aaron Donald will soon finish one of the most productive years from a player at his position in the history of the game. Donald, like many defensive players before him, shouldn't just be mentioned when talking about "the most outstanding player in college football", he should be one of the names leading the discussion.
A former star at Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh, Donald currently leads the country with 26.5 tackles for loss and paces all defensive tackles with ten sacks. He is tied for third nationally with four forced fumbles this fall and has 16 quarterback hurries. Donald has amassed 165 total tackles the last three years. He has totaled those numbers, doing his best Ndamukong Suh, facing constant double-teams throughout his career.
"Ninety-seven is one heck of a player. He created a lot of havoc in there," Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson stated.
From a historical standpoint, Donald has made his presence felt. With five more tackles for loss, Donald had six against the Yellow Jackets alone, he would tie a major college football mark of 31.5 in a single season set by Arizona State's Terrell Suggs in 2002. Donald is already sixth on the career list with 64. If he compiles two more stops behind the line, Donald will stand alone in third place in FBS history in that category. Despite playing along the interior of the line, Donald ranks second amongst active players in career sacks.
Donald was recently awarded a case-full of honors that few before him have ever compiled. He was presented with the Bronco Nagurski Award, Lombardi Award, Chuck Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy and was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. That recognition comes after Donald was a first-team All-Big East lineman as a junior and second-team All-Big East lineman as a sophomore. For one of the most acclaimed college players in years, It's been a paint-by-number progression to the top.
“I am just overwhelmed with all the wonderful honors from this week,” Donald concluded. “It really makes you speechless. I want to thank everyone who found me worthy of this recognition. This isn’t about me – it is about Pitt and my coaches and teammates. I’m appreciative of all of them.”
Pittsburgh is home to some of the most legendary names in football history. Donald may very well be next. He could soon stand alongside the likes of Ditka, Fralic, Green and May as icons in blue and gold known for battering foes black and blue. Donald is the first defensive player for the Panthers to win a national award since 1980. He is the only player in school history to claim four major awards in one season.
When the Heisman Trophy was being presented in New York City, Donald watched from home. He did so with every other honor he was eligible for already all his own. Even with such an impressive collection of accolades and a class of company as humbling as any, something still seems a little off base. Something, if just a place in the conversation, still seems like it's missing.