Rams' Aaron Donald will be welcomed home in Pittsburgh

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers see the sign every day at their team headquarters.

"The Aaron Donald Football Performance Center."

The Steelers share a facility with the University of Pittsburgh, where Donald starred for four seasons and later made a seven-figure donation after the Los Angeles Rams awarded him a six-year, $135 million contract extension, with $87 million in guarantees last summer.

The University of Pittsburgh named its portion of the training facility after Donald.

The constant reminder of Donald, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, could serve as an annoyance as the Steelers (4-4) prepare to host the Rams (5-3) on Sunday at Heinz Field (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox).

But several Steelers don't see it that way.

"I love that," Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said. "He spent a million dollars? Hell, his s--- should be everywhere. It should be on the street whenever we pull in. It should be Aaron Donald Road if you spend a million dollars. Rightfully so. That's awesome."

Said running back Jaylen Samuels: "I know how much he means to Pittsburgh and how much he has done for the Pitt University. I see it every day."

Donald returns to Pittsburgh in the offseason and whenever else his schedule allows. He continues to work out at the school, and is welcoming to those who want to follow along.

"The way he works out alongside young people in the offseason and allows those guys to get close to him and see what work ethic is about and stuff is really inspirational," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who sees Donald nearly every day in the offseason at the training facility. "This community really loves him and always will because of those things."

For Donald, 28, it's an easy decision to leave sunny Southern California in the offseason to return to chilly, and often snowy, Pittsburgh.

"That's home," Donald said. "That's where my family is at ... that's where I was molded at and that's what made me who I am, being there."

Sunday's game will be Donald's first in Pittsburgh in his six seasons as a pro.

"Just going out there, playing at home again, I ain't did that in a long time," said Donald, whom the Rams selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2014 draft. "So to be able to go back to Pittsburgh where I was born and raised at, and where my whole family is at, it's going to be a good feeling just to go back and have them be there, be in the stands, cheering for me."

With the Rams in the hunt for a third consecutive playoff bid, Donald isn't exactly on the tear that he was during last season's Super Bowl run, when he had 20.5 sacks and was named the NFL defensive player of the year for a second consecutive season.

But he remains a force. Donald has the best pass rush win rate as a defensive tackle (27.8%) in the NFL, despite being double-teamed at the highest rate in the league (70.2%) among tackles who have played in at least eight games, according to ESPN metrics powered by NFL Next Gen Stats.

He has five sacks, and the attention he commands has helped teammates earn 18 more.

For Tomlin, who has known Donald since he was in his late teens, Donald's success is no surprise.

"He's unbelievably talented," Tomlin said. "And his work ethic and approach to business is probably equally impressive."

For all Donald means to Pittsburgh, he has made a lasting impression within the Rams' organization as well.

Wade Phillips was hard-pressed to put into words how much Donald has meant to the Rams' success on the field, but the 72-year-old defensive coordinator succinctly summarized how he felt about Donald off of it.

"He's all the things you want your son to be," Phillips said.

Though Donald will be playing Sunday for the opposition -- and he's well aware that "Everybody in Pittsburgh is a Steelers fan," because he grew up one, too -- there's no doubt that he will, at least momentarily, be welcomed home.

"He will be well received because he is a member of our community," Tomlin said. "This is a guy that's Pittsburgh born and raised. Went to Pitt and is still very active in our community and is a big-time inspiration to the young people."

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter Brooke Pryor contributed to this report.