There is no denying that the Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is one of the best players in the NFL. With an NFL leading 20.5 sacks to cap off his second consecutive season winning Defensive Player of the Year, the stats and the hardware speak for themselves.
However, before the accolades, Donald had to have a place to start. Although Donald has always had the talent, he has consistently improved. For former teammate Chris Long, he has always seen something special in the Rams star.
Long and Donald were teammates during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. According to Myles Simmons of TheRams.com, Long claims to be the first to see that Donald was made different:
“I would like to credit myself with being the first person know he was going to be amazing,” Long said on the podcast, apparently tongue-in-cheek. “We used to joke his rookie camp that he was going to be in the Hall of Fame, but I kind of wasn’t joking.”
“I’ve never seen anybody work so hard, who had so much talent and play so violent and play with such tenacity,” Long would continue. “This guy would fight you on the field at the drop of a hat, and I respect that about him, and outworks everybody.”
Long was blessed with a long and generous career. After a successful four-year career at Virginia, including finishing 10th in Heisman Trophy voting in 2007, the Rams selected Long second overall in the 2008 NFL Draft.
He put up a total of 247 combined tackles and 54.5 sacks over eight seasons with the Rams and currently sits sixth on the franchise all-time sacks leaderboard, being pushed from the fifth spot by Donald.
Long noted that his own work ethic was something he took pride in, however, Donald soon began to match that work ethic:
“I would be the last person in the film room usually at the end of camp, and I would go in there and watch tape once everybody was at home. I started going in there an opening the door and turning the lights on to find my pen or notebook, and he was in there every night.”
Long was cut by the Rams at the conclusion of the 2015 season, but things quickly turned around for him. After spending all eight seasons in St. Louis without making the playoffs, Long signed to the eventual 2016 Super Bowl Champions, the New England Patriots. The very next season he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, winning yet another Super Bowl before retiring after this past season.
Donald will hopefully continue to tear into the league like he has for each of his past five seasons. If he continues to work hard, his chances of ending up in the Hall of Fame like Long predicted will certainly come true.