Q&A: Aaron Donald

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Aaron Donald has earned several preseason accolades, earned second-team FoxSportsNext honors after a breakout sophomore season. Now, Donald is a player the Pitt defense finds itself building around.

Starting off in a 4-3, going to a 3-4, and now back to a 4-3
There's a lot of different stuff that goes into it. Each coach is helping me, I feel, become a better player and become the player I want to be.

Are there any differences with what you have to do?
To me, like I always say, defensive line is defensive line. It's always going to be the same for me. I'm just going to go out there and play football.

How has the new coaching staff helped in that transition?
Makes it a whole lot easier. The whole coaching staff, you can go there and talk to them about anything. If it's not football, he'll listen to you and tell you the whole truth.

Was it easy or hard having a third head coach in your third year?
He came in and told us straightforward what it was, and what we're doing. You buy into him. What it was, the head coach is the boss. You learn from Coach Chryst, and you know what you have to do. Coach Chryst is a successful coach.

What can you add about Todd Graham's departure?
It was a shock, but at the same time, it is what it is. It's a business. I'm just ready for this Coach Chryst era to begin, to move forward.

With all the preseason accolades, do you put more pressure on yourself?
Exactly. I feel like I have to be a leader towards the defensive line because we have three new defensive linemen that never started. I'm not the speaker, but I'm more of a 'watch what I do on the field' and 'learn from what I'm doing on the field.' I feel like I have to become a leader, and step it up a lot.

Looking back, who did you look up to just two years ago as a freshman?
Jabaal Sheard. I talked to Jabaal Sheard a lot in my freshman year. I was mad I wasn't playing too much. He talked to me a lot, calmed me down. He helped me put in the extra time and watch the film. Jabaal Sheard, Greg Romeus and guys like that.

Are you still mad about not playing as much as you hoped as a freshman?
Now that I've seen myself grow, I wasn't ready. I had a technique. I wasn't ready for that.

You could have two high school teammates (Cullen Christian and Dan Mason) starting with you on defense. What is that like?
Penn Hills is a solid program. It got us ready for a Division I program. I'm excited to see I'm on the field too. I love them guys. I've known them since middle school. I'm real excited to see what they do this year. They're going to do some. I think they're going to do some big things.

Buc can play football real well, but he's a hard worker. I expect Buc to be one of the top corners in the NCAA. I expect him to do real good things. I'm real excited to see what Dan Mason can do. He's a tough guy.

What other offers did you have coming out of high school?
Toledo, Akron. I committed early, end of my junior year, with Pitt.

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