Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is widely regarded as one of the best interior linemen, if not one of the best overall players, in the league.
With just four seasons under his belt, the Pittsburgh product has already achieved more than most have in their careers — accumulating four trips to the Pro Bowl, a Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, and two All-Pro Honors.
This season, Donald led the league with 91 quarterback pressures. He also recorded a team-leading 11.0 sacks and currently has the most sacks ever recorded by a Rams defensive tackle with 39.0.
So what keeps the fourth-year pro performing at such a consistently high level? "Never being comfortable," he says.
"I'm my worst critic. You know even if I have a good game, I'll find 5-10 plays that I feel like were bad plays where I could've done better," he said recently. "So, I'm always trying to improve some way, somehow. Hard work pays off and that's the thing my dad's been telling me since I was 12 years old working out trying to get to this point."
Head coach Sean McVay is a lot like Donald in this regard. In his first year as the Rams head coach, McVay has instilled a new culture within the organization — one centered on hard work and accountability. While Donald was absent for much of the offseason program and all of training camp, it's something he noticed right away when he returned for the regular season.
"When I got here, just coming after practice and seeing all the guys that stay after, all the extra work on the field," Donald said. "That's something I didn't see in years prior. Little things like that go a long way."
And Donald credits McVay for a lot of the changes that have come through the organization this season.
"You want to follow his lead and be with it 100 percent," he said. "I tip my hat off to him [and] I have a lot of respect for him. I always tell him how much I appreciate him because he got us on a winning track. We just have to keep going."
McVay's leadership drove the team to an NFC West title and a playoff berth — two firsts for Donald. The defensive tackle said clinching the division was one "of the best feelings in the world," proving to him that all of the team's hard work was finally paying off.
"During the offseason, this is what you work for, this is what you do the extra reps for [and] this is why you're studying film and trying to find ways to make yourself better," he said. "I'm happy just to be a part of it and be
Check out photos of the Rams playoff moments throughout the years.
here now. Sky's the limit. We ain't done yet, so we have a lot more work. But we're in a good position right now."
This Saturday, the franchise will make its first playoff appearance in over a decade, welcoming the Falcons in the Wild Card round. For Donald, bringing the playoffs back to L.A. means a lot, adding to the intensity of an already critical game.
"You're playing at home and it's going to be a big game for us, an important game. I know the fans are going to be there live and making it loud for them guys," Donald said. "We just have to go out there and perform."
"This is for it all," he added. "I'm just ready to go out there and see how it is for myself. Because I hear a lot about it. I'm pretty sure — definitely sure — it's going to be live."