Aaron Donald is just 28 years old. He’s entering his sixth year as a professional football player after graduating from Penn Hills and Pitt.
It’s been a fantastic start to his pro career, with five Pro Bowls, four All-Pro selections, two NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards and a trip to the Super Bowl in five season.
But that’s just the start.
The last thing any 28-year-old, particularly one with so much success in the start of his chosen career path should be thinking about is his legacy. But Donald solidified his on Wednesday.
Donald, along with Pitt chancellor Patrick Gallagher, athletic director Heather Lyke and head football coach Pat Narduzzi, unveiled the Aaron Donald Football Performance Center on Wednesday, the result of a seven-figure gift from the defensive lineman to the university earlier this year.
Standing underneath the letters on the side of the building that will bear his name for the foreseeable future, Donald was struck by the very permanence of it all.
“That’s leaving a legacy behind that’s going to be there forever,” Donald said. “There’s going to be a day 20 years down the road, 50 years, whatever, they’re going to see that name and go ‘who’s that?’ and see the history of it. That’s the thing that makes me proud.”
For Donald, it’s a feeling that has been a long time coming. Growing up on the east side of the city, Pitt was the team that Donald always dreamed of playing for. Having his name be such a visible part of its future is beyond even what he could have dreamed at the time.
“This is home,” he said. “This is the school that I watched on TV as a kid and I dreamed of playing for. For it to be here, in my hometown, at a university that I grew up cheering for and wanting to play for, it coming full circle how it did … you can’t write that story no better than that, honestly.”
Donald’s donation will fund a total renovation of the first floor of the Duratz Athletic Complex on the South Side that will now bear his name. The renovations are not yet complete, but the entrance from both sides has been re-done to bear Donald’s likeness, with his name on the back and his image on the front side, along with a plaque and an inscription that reads:
“The Panthers are forever grateful to Aaron. His commitment to the University of Pittsburgh and Pitt Football set the highest of standards.”
Donald sees a bright future for the football program. The renovations bearing his name will certainly be used as a recruiting tool, in addition to helping to improve the performance and recovery of the current squad. Furthermore, he has bought into the vision that Narduzzi has for the program.
“They’re going to keep doing what they’ve been doing, just keep getting better,” Donald said. “I’m always going to watch from afar. I love what Coach Narduzzi is doing with this program.”
That buy-in was instrumental in the gift being given in the first place, as Donald, who left Pitt during the tenure of Narduzzi’s predecessor Paul Chryst, had no reason to stay connected to his alma mater, other than a desire to live at home and work out close by. The open arms of Narduzzi, strength coach Dave Andrews and others set the table for the connection, that has not only paid off for the school financially, but through Donald’s continued presence over the years.
“He’s a Panther forever,” Narduzzi said. “Our players have an opportunity to watch him work in this facility every day. In the hallways. … In the dictionary, there should be, by the words hard work, the name Aaron Donald for everything that he’s done.”