He blossomed in his senior season, a year that could be considered a breakout year for him. He never wavered on his commitment to the Panthers. He also says at the time, he never imagined he'd be filing paperwork to declare early for the NFL Draft.
"I just wanted to go to college hoping to be successful, and help my team make plays and win," Donald said. "It feels good. Coming in to this year, you just want to get the recognition, it's a good feeling. It's always good to be recognized."
He went on to play in all 13 games as a true freshman, racking up two sacks. He played in all 13 games as a sophomore, including 10 starts, also moving out to defensive end in a 3-4 alignment.
Donald moved back inside this year to defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme, and had another breakout year. He led the Big East with 18.5 tackles for loss. His mindset is simple.
"I feel like I got better; a pretty good season," Donald said. "I feel confident in the year I had. I can always get better."
Based on increased accolades, games played and his numbers growing each year, he has lived up to his mantra. It's especially true in looking at how he improved as the season went on. In the first six games, he had one sack and four tackles for losses. In the final six, he had 4.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. What did he feel he improved on?
"Run stop," Donald said. "I stopped the run better than I did last year. Just getting more comfortable out there, and just trying to make plays. Me personally, and the team too."
After the junior season he had, head coach Paul Chryst encouraged him to file his paperwork for the NFL Draft, just to get some kind of feedback to see where he might get drafted. Donald said the feedback could be promising--meaning he could grade out in the upper half of the draft. His plan for the time being, however, is to return for his senior year.
"I just sent it in to see where I'm standing right now," Donald said. "From where it stands right now, I'll be coming back.
"If it does come down to it, I would first sit down with the coaches, my family, to discuss. Where I stand with now, I'm not too worried about that. I'm a Pitt football player. That's what I'm worried about."
Like he said, his focus is on just playing for his current team right now. A bigger factor in that, is seeing what's coming up, in terms of younger players in the system. He made a couple of observations on what he's seen, as the coaching staff has let the younger players come in and taken the majority of snaps in early bowl game preparations.
"There's a couple younger players that have been standing out through the whole season," Donald aaid. "Mike Caprara, he's been standing out a lot. He's got a lot of playing time at linebacker. He looks pretty good."
Donald will have a new defensive coordinator for this bowl game. He talked about the influence Dave Huxtable had on him in just one year, as well as who might be calling the plays for the BBVA Compass Bowl in just a couple weeks.
"He was a great coach," Donald said of Huxtable. "I learned a lot from him. He was a great coach, but things happen.
"Coach House (has been making calls in practice), and he's doing a great job. I'm liking the calls he's been giving us. He's going to be successful in the bowl, I feel."
What did he take from Huxtable the most?
"Just effort," Donald said. "He's more, he warned you about your effort in practice, every play. No plays off. I learned to keep going harder every play."