Aaron Donald

The Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald (right) and his brother, Archie, share a moment during the University of Pittsburgh’s dedication of the “Aaron Donald Football Performance Center” in honor of the former Pitt standout at the Duratz Athletic Complex in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. 

PITTSBURGH – Aaron Donald will recognize a familiar name – his own – every time he enters the place where he spends much of the NFL offseason training.

In a ceremony held on Wednesday evening, Pitt football officially dedicated the “Aaron Donald Football Performance Center” which is now the name of the ground floor of its Duratz Athletic Complex on the South Side. The ground floor of the complex includes the weight room and locker room, where Donald already has his own permanent locker. 

The decision to name the ground floor after Donald came on the heels of his recent seven-figure donation to the program.

The 28-year-old defensive lineman is a graduate of Penn Hills High School and played for Pitt from 2010-13. 

He currently plays for the Los Angeles Rams, but returns to Pittsburgh during the offseason and utilizes Pitt’s facilities to train.

Some may question why Donald would leave sunny Los Angeles to return to Pittsburgh, but Donald still sees the Steel City as his home.

“I love Pittsburgh,” Donald said. 

“It’s where I was born and raised at. A great university, they allow me to train here, use everything just like I was still here playing with them. This is where I’m comfortable at. This is where it all started. This is what keeps me grounded, keeps me going, keeps me pushing.

“This is home to me.”

Donald is known for texting members of the coaching staff to ask if he can train at certain times. 

When asked if he’ll still seek permission to use the facility that now bears his name, Donald smiled and said he’ll still check in to make sure he isn’t “messing anything up” for the football team.

Donald was drafted 13th overall the 2014 NFL draft and quickly took the league by storm, earning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons in the league, and has been named to the All-Pro First Team in the past four seasons. In 2018, Donald helped lead the Rams to their first Super Bowl appearance since 2001.

The reigning back-to-back NFL Defensive Player of the Year has always given credit to Pitt for his success and says playing football at the university taught him valuable lessons both on and off the field.

“I can’t just point to one thing, because it’s multiple things,” Donald said. “How to carry yourself on and off the field, cause it’s not always about football. We’re on a platform that kids look up to us and the way we carry ourselves, they’re going to imitate that.”

Donald was clearly humbled by the honor, saying he was holding back tears during the ceremony. 

He said seeing his name plastered throughout the building was “crazy” and “surreal.”

“I would’ve never thought in a million years that my name would be on anything like this, so to see that, so to see it now, I can’t really put it into words.”

Donald said growing up locally and still having family in the area made the honor even more special to him.

“That means everything,” Donald said. 

“This is home. This is the school I watched on TV as a kid and I dreamed about playing for.

“So for it to be here in my hometown, at a university I grew up cheering for and wanting to play for, and coming full circle how it did – you can’t write that story no better than that.”

Amanda Filipcic-Godsey is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. She covers Pitt football and basketball for CNHI Pa. newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaFGodsey.