IRVING, Texas – Standing next to him, after a Senior Bowl practice, it's easy to imagine why Aaron Donald would have his doubters.
Surrounded by reporters and scouts, the Pittsburgh defensive tackle doesn't look as monstrous as you expect an NFL defensive lineman to be. Donald checks in at 6-0, 288 pounds – a bit undersized for the ideal run-stuffing, havoc-wreaking defensive tackle.
"My size – it's always going to be about my size, but it is what it is," he said.
Donald's ability on the field, away from reporters, tends to quash the questions, however. The three-year starter bullied his fellow Senior Bowl participants, including All-American Baylor guard Cyril Richardson. The production Donald has cranked out makes a pretty compelling argument against the doubts.
"I can continue to grow and continue to work – work even harder. The person I am, the way I was raised, I'll continue to work hard and grind," Donald said. "God willing, everything will work out. If you put the time into it, God will take care of the outcome."
That's what happened at Pittsburgh. Donald, originally from the Pittsburgh area, was a standout at Penn Hills High School and earned all-state honors. He was only touted as a three-star athlete, though, and he received minimal attention as a recruit.
"I wasn't a big recruit. I had three scholarship offers – from Pitt, Toledo and Akron," he said.
The hometown team was a logical choice. Of course, anyone following college football or the draft has learned that it worked out. Donald leaves Pittsburgh as one of its most decorated players. He was named All-ACC, ACC Defensive Player of the Year and All-American.
That's not even close to the end of his hardware haul, as he earned the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award – both given to the nation's top defensive player. He also won the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation's best offensive or defensive interior lineman, and the Rotary Lombardi Award, given to the country's best lineman or linebacker.
"At the end of the day, I proved a lot of people wrong, and I'll continue to grow as a football player and as a man," he said.
As the draft cycle wears on, Donald has a chance to continue distinguishing himself as one of this draft's top defensive linemen – especially for a Cowboys team in desperate need at the position. If he continues to open eyes the way he did at the Senior Bowl, and Pitt before that, there won't be many left to doubt his stature.
"It's always hard work, constantly trying to get myself better – on the field, off the field, in the film room," Donald said. "Just learning the game and transferring that to the field and making plays."