Donald Named Outland Semifinalist

Aaron Donald one of six semifinalists for the Outland Trophy, is the only defensive lineman nominated. The last Pitt player to win the award was Mark May, who won it as an offensive tackle in 1980.

Another day, another honor for Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

So far on the list:
* named to four midseason All-America lists
* semifinalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award
* semifinalist for the Ronnie Lotts IMPACT trophy
* candidate for the Bronko Nagurski Award

Add another one to the list, a big one. Aaron Donald was named a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy, awarded to college football's best interior lineman.

"It's truly an honor, I'm truly happy about it," Donald said Tuesday, after receiving the news. "I'm blessed to even have the opportunity to be up for an award like this. It's past my expectations. I'm excited about it."

Numbers-wise, consider this. Donald has 22.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 10 games this season. Ndamukong Suh, 2009 Outland Trophy winner, had 20.5 tackles for losses and 12 sacks in a 14-game season that year. In addition to being an Outland Trophy winner, Suh was also a Heisman finalist--a rare feat for a defensive lineman.

Then you throw in the fact that of the six semifinalists, he's the only defensive lineman. Joining Donald as a semifinalist is Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Baylor offensive guard Cyril Richardson, Florida State center Bryan Stork and Stanford offensive guard David Yankey.

"I'm honored that I'm the only defensive player on there," Donald added. "That's truly a honor, and it says a lot. I just keep playing football, and I'm going out there Saturday to do what I can to help my team win.

"This has surpassed my expectations. I never thought I'd be up for the Outland Trophy. I'm truly honored. I can't explain it. I'm excited for it, and I'm going to keep working. There's still more football to play."

It's been awhile since Pitt has even had an Outland Trophy candidate, 1988 to be exact. That year, it was center Mark Stepnoski who went on to be earn All-America honors before embarking on a 13-year NFL career that included three Super Bowls as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.

Pitt's last winner was Mark May, who won it in 1980. May, of course, went on to win three Super Bowls as a member of the Washington Redskins. He had his No. 73 retired by Pitt, and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

What the first thing Donald thinks of when he hears the phrase 'Outland Trophy?'

"Mark May," Donald answered. "You get to see (the trophy) every day in the lunch room. Just to know that a great player like him won it, and he played for Pitt. I'm honored by that."

Donald, listed at 6-0, 285, has had the 'undersized' label follow him around wherever he's been. It may have been a reason why more schools didn't offer him coming out of high school. It didn't stop Pitt from offering him early. In fact, he was the second prospect to verbally commit to Pitt's 2010 recruiting class.

He cited Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins as someone he looks to. Atkins was the No. 41 defensive end in the nation in 2006. He played as a true freshman for Georgia, just like Donald did for Pitt in 2010. In just his fourth NFL season, Atkins is a two-time Pro Bowler.

"I watch him a lot," Donald said. "He's a great ball player, and he plays low, takes on double-teams well. He's a great football player. I try to watch him, try to imitate him a lot."

Earlier on Tuesday, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks made the same comparison.

When Donald was informed of the comparison, he was humbled once again.

"That's an honor right there," Donald said. "That's great."


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