On Sunday, former Pitt defensive lineman and current Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald made his first return to Heinz Field, at least in a professional capacity, since graduating from Pitt in 2014. While the result for the Rams was a 17-12 loss, Donald put on a solid showing, as he led his team in quarterback hits and tackles for losses and caused a Steelers safety.
Confirming the fears of many fans in his hometown, Donald got to Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph early and often, as he recorded a team-high three quarterback hits on Sunday. That improved his total for the year to 12.
In addition, he found a path to the rookie signal-caller at a pivotal point in the game, as he broke through the Steelers offensive line, which was situated along its own 5-yard line, and sacked Rudolph in the end zone for a safety in the fourth quarter. Rams linebacker Clay Matthews was also in on the sack, and the play brought the score to 14-12, Steelers.
Donald also had no trouble getting into the Steelers’ backfield in general, as he was tied for the team lead in tackles for losses, with 2.5. And to round out a strong performance in his homecoming, he logged five total tackles, which ranked fifth on the team.
After the game, Donald found former Pitt teammate and current Steelers running back James Conner and caught up. The two played together at Pitt in 2013 and have continued to support each other since then. Donald also signed two jerseys for local fans on his way to the locker room — one a Penn Hills jersey, the other a Pitt throwback.
During his time in Pittsburgh, Donald evolved from an overlooked three-star recruit into one of the fiercest competitors of his generation prior to going to the Rams in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. Since then, he has also given back to Pitt extensively in terms of time spent at team facilities, some of which now bear his name, and financial contributions. And as his reception on Sunday indicated, he is remembered fondly by many in the city.