Most Pitt observers noticed something striking about the preseason all-ACC team released in August.
Aaron Donald wasn't on it.
Sure, if the ACC had released a preseason all-conference second team, Pitt's senior defensive tackle would have made that list, since he finished third in the voting behind Florida State's Timmy Jernigan and Wake Forest's Nikita Whitlock.
And maybe voters were unsure of what to expect from the conference's newcomer. After all, Donald had been a first-team All-Big East selection after piling up 18.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2012. But that was the Big East; could the undersized senior repeat that production against tougher competition?
Turns out Donald did just fine against the tougher competition, recording 26.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in one of the most dominant seasons by a Pitt defender in recent memory. Not only did he outperform Jernigan (who had 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks) and Whitlock (who had 19 TFL and 9.5 sacks), but he played his way into first-team All-ACC honors and was named the conference Defensive Player of the Year.
And on Monday night, he was named the winner of the 2013 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is presented to the "nation's most outstanding defensive player" by the Charlotte Touchdown Club and Football Writers Association of America.
That's a long way from being a preseason all-conference snub. But while many players would use the lack of respect as motivation, Donald just kept doing what he has always done.
"I didn't really have a reaction (to being left off the preseason team)," Donald said after winning one of his numerous postseason awards. "It's good to be talked about with awards and everything like that, but at the end of the day, you still have to get out there and play the game to earn something like this. So I didn't really let it get to me; it was what it was, and I just went out there and played ball.
In addition to the ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors - he garnered as many votes for that award as Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston received for the ACC Offensive Player of the Year - Donald is also a finalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award, the Outland Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award.
The Lombardi will be presented on Wednesday night in Houston and the Outland and Bednarik will be presented Thursday night in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
For Donald, the busy week of travel is just another step on his path.
"Getting the opportunity to do these things is a blessing, so I'm going to take it all in and enjoy it as it comes," he said.
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