Los Angeles Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald became the highest paid defensive player in NFL history at the time when he signed a six-year, $135 million contract extension last August. Last Friday, he gave a chunk of that money back to the Pitt football program that helped prepare him for the pros, making a seven-figure financial commitment to the Pitt Football Championship Fund.
“My experience as a Panther is something that influences my life every day and I want to pay that forward,” Donald said in a press release. “I believe in what Coach Narduzzi is building at Pitt and this was an opportunity for me to make a difference for our current and future players.”
The exact amount remains unknown, but the University announced that it was the largest donation ever given to the program by a Pitt football letterman, and that it makes the 27-year-old Donald the youngest seven-figure donor in school history. Pitt Football Championship Fund will use the gift for areas including facility improvement, recruiting, technology and student-athlete development.
Donald established himself as one of the nation’s top defensive players during his four-year career for the Panthers from 2010-2013. He tallied an incredible 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and 28.5 tackles for loss in his senior season, earning college football’s highest honors for defensive players like the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award, among others.
“Aaron’s favorite saying is ‘Hard work pays off,’ and his incredible success is certainly a testament to that motto,” Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke said. “The wonderful thing about Aaron is how he shares his success with others. Even while playing for the Los Angeles Rams, he remains passionately invested in both Pitt and Pittsburgh.”
In recognition of Donald’s contribution, the football program announced that the ground floor of its Duratz Athletic Complex, located at the South Side practice facility, will be renamed the “Aaron Donald Football Performance Center.” Donald still maintains a strong presence in the facility’s weight room, where he often comes to work out during the offseason.
Donald has proven that his massive NFL contract was well earned, leading the league with 20.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss last season while helping the Rams reach the Super Bowl. He was selected as an All-Pro for the fourth straight season and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season, making him just the third player in league history to win that award twice in a row.
His donation can be seen as giving back not just to the Pitt program which developed his game, but also the greater Pittsburgh community where he was born and raised. Donald attended Penn Hills High School, just 13 miles northeast of the City, where he was selected to first team All-State Class AAAA in each of his final two seasons, but ultimately undervalued as the 37th-best defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com.
“Aaron is the toast of Los Angeles but he’s still a Pitt and Penn Hills guy at heart,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “He’s humble, hard working and has never forgotten where he came from. This incredible gift to Pitt is a reflection of that.”