Aaron Donald joined the NFL in 2014 at the age of 23 and quickly established himself as a defensive juggernaut. He played two years in St. Louis before moving to Los Angeles, where he continued to have success, earning three Defensive Player of the Year awards (2017, 2018, 2020), seven All-Pro selections, eight Pro Bowls, and one Super Bowl Ring (2020).
At age 31, with eight years in the league behind him, you might be wondering how much is left in Donald's tank. Will he lose a step? Can he find ways to stay motivated?
The answers are a clear no and yes.
That season, Aaron Donald recorded his 100th career sack, becoming the second defensive tackle in NFL history to reach that milestone (Alan Page was the first). Perhaps the only chance the 6'1'', 280 defensive tackle will slow down is the onslaught from doubles and even triples he gets from offenses. These challenges present new obstacles to overcome. And when you stack on top of the previous ones he's logged in and continues to learn from, it's a never-ending source of inspiration to move forward.
For example, before the Rams won the Lombardi Trophy with a 23-20 win over the Bengals last year, there was a 3-13 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII in 2017. The sting of making it to the big dance and coming up short hadn't escaped Donald's notice. It just meant he had to work harder.
"Adversity can do two things to you: it can drag you down or it can drag you up," says Donald. "t being successful in our first Super Bowl was one of the best things that happened to me - it made you appreciate getting there all the more. You expect to win, but if you fall short, you still expect to get back there easily. It took me three years to come back and now I appreciate it more and realize that this journey to get back to the Super Bowl can't take any of it for granted.
And if his training schedule is any indication, the 2014 first-round pick from Pittsburgh will break those doubles teams with ease. He credits his on-field success to a grueling off-season training schedule. There really are no days off in Donald's world. He works smarter now, including a new appreciation for recovery, which helped him partner with Dr. enter Teal's. He says it's helped him stay strong all season. ("Having the opportunity to collaborate with something I actually use and love has been amazing," he says. "It plays a big part in my success in terms of recovery, allowing me to perform on Sundays.)
Succeeding at the Super Bowl and getting out of the NFL can come down to maintaining an uncompromising regime, as Aaron Donald says in this winning strategy. He also offers advice on how best to use the advice of industry veterans to up your game and how to repay it for the next generation. That strategy, Donald hopes, will lead him and the Rams to a third Super Bowl appearance.
"Honestly, winning the Super Bowl or an achievement like that is the greatest motivation you can get," he says. "I want to experience that again. I thought I was hungry to get a Super Bowl when I didn't get one (2018). But if you've made it and you can live that moment with your family, your friends, your teammates, I want to do everything in my power to relive that. That's what I'm chasing."
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Winners never leave
I will never take it easy on myself. I'm a guy who trains all year round. I tell people this all the time: when you make a name for yourself it becomes 20 times harder because now everyone is trying to stop you. So if I ever step on the gas and relax, I'll never be the player I want and need to be to help my team win - and winning in this game is a lot more fun when you make plays and a prolific footballer are players. I want to keep being that type of player.
I know what matters and I'm kind of addicted to work. I don't want to stop - I want to keep working, doing the extra sets, the extra running, the conditioning, things like that help me feel good and look good. At the same time it's something mental that I feel like I have to do. So I'm a guy who travels all year round. I don't give myself two or three weeks off. If anything, I take three days off [after the season]then I'll be right back in the weight room.
Aaron Donald maintains an MVP regime
To be honest, last season was probably the best I've felt in my entire career. I was probably the strongest I've ever been from the start of camp to the end of the Super Bowl. In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, I benched 455 sets of three—it's not usually normal. Your body is used to being sore and aching, things like that. But I stayed strong and fresh throughout the season. So it's been a great year.
But something had to be done. I trained with [Rams vice president, sports medicine and performance] Reggie Scott - he made sure I did whatever I had to do. I've also worked with strength coach Justin Lovett, who's a damn good coach at making me work but at the same time making sure I'm working smart. I also added certain things to my program like Dr. Teal's Epsom Salt Soaks, massage programs, compression boots and the like to get you through the season.
I usually soak in Epsom salts right in my own bathroom at home for 15-20 minutes. That's usually on a Monday, the day after a game, and then mid-week on a Wednesday, and then Friday before we go to the hotel. If I can't get it in, I'm kinda thrown out of my regimen.
Winners never stop working I've been in this league for nine years and I've seen a lot of players who didn't have the work ethic to stay. Honestly, you see a lot of people coming here with a lot of potential -- you'll get glimpses of it here and there -- but they're not working on it. They don't invest any extra work in the movie room or the weight room.
You have to understand, and I know it's a cliché, but everyone in the NFL is good. Everyone is there for a reason. All are tall, athletic and have good speed. So you have to do the things that ensure you are ahead of everyone else. So you see so much potential and talent from so many different players coming into this league, but unless you work or put in extra time during the day or extra film studies or just mind your body, you'll be out of the league quickly . Being in the NFL is a blessing and something you never take for granted because you can be in the league one day and out the next.
Dive into Veteran Advice
I had some great guys who told me a lot of good things when I first came into the league. We had players like Robert Quinn, Chris Long, William Hayes and Eugene Sims. One thing they always told me was just work. I mentioned earlier that I came in and saw the potential of a lot of guys. I was the guy that came in and those guys saw the potential for me. Obviously I was blessed with the work ethic - I got it at a young age. But one thing they told me was never to be satisfied. These guys told me I had a special talent - they said it before I even knew what it was going to be like in the league. Having veterans who see and hear the potential in me from a young age can sometimes help you escalate even more, even if you already have the work ethic. When you hear from people who've been in the league for a few years that you have the potential, you want to work harder so you don't let them down.
Outperform the others - but don't outsmart yourself
I say just keep working. When you reach a certain point in the NFL -- whether you get drafted or make it as a free agent -- you've made it for a reason. You did what you had to do to get to the level you are at. And if you keep working to build the team, you will.
I always say to young people: keep doing what you've done to yourself here. Just play the game exactly how it got you to where you are right now. I've seen guys make it into the NFL and just be blown away because they might see a guy they were a fan with or just getting into the NFL can mess with some mentally to the point at which you feel it is too big. But football is football – nothing has changed. The stage might be bigger because of the cameras and crowds, but soccer is soccer. Do what you have to do today - keep your head down and just work. You will be in good shape.