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Aaron Donald to his Pittsburgh family: 'Better root for the Rams' on Sunday

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, the Rams' Aaron Donald (99) was an unabashed Steelers fan. Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- As the ticket requests for this week rolled in, St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald had just one stipulation for his many family members flying in from Pittsburgh.

"They better root for the Rams. They better not be cheering for the Steelers," Donald said. "That's the rule. They have to root for us."

The Steelers and their potent offense come calling to the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff. It will be Donald's first chance to play against the team he passionately rooted for as a kid.

"It will be pretty cool playing against them, but I'm just going to take it like another game and just try to do my job and come up with a win," Donald said. "That was the team I grew up watching all my life. It's going to be a pretty cool experience."

Donald was born and raised in Pittsburgh and members of his family were unabashed Steelers fans. In that town, you're swaddled in a Terrible Towel out of the womb. Donald was no different. Ask him to name a favorite player and he can't choose just one, noting a handful of names while subtly reminding you he's only 24, born long after the first four of the Steelers' six Super Bowl victories.

"I was a big Steelers fan. If you're born and raised there, you’ve got to be a Steelers fan," Donald said. "All of them. Jerome Bettis, Big Ben (Roethlisberger) was there, Casey Hampton, all of those guys."

Pittsburgh boasts one of the league's most dynamic offenses with Roethlisberger at the controls and running back Le'Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown among the elite players in the NFL at their respective positions.

Roethlisberger, in particular, represents a major challenge for Donald and the defense. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Roethlisberger is taller than Donald by at least 4 inches and Donald doesn't outweigh him by much. Part of Roethlisberger's greatness is in his ability to escape would-be tacklers and make plays down the field.

"He definitely doesn't go down easy," Donald said. "It's a fight trying to get him down. He's a little bigger than me, so it's going to be a challenge for us. We'll be ready for it."

Of course, after Donald wrecked college offenses in their backyard for four years at the University of Pittsburgh and before that at Penn Hills High, the Steelers are well aware of what Donald can do. He has 2.5 sacks in the first two weeks of this season and his 11.5 sacks in his first 18 games is the most among 4-3 defensive tackles in that span.

Donald is Pro Football Focus' highest-rated player at any position in the first two weeks with a grade of 18.0. Coincidentally, Roethlisberger follows at 13.0.

"I know quite a bit about Aaron Donald, probably too much," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. "The things that I know about him don't help me sleep easy. This guy is extremely talented, but he's also a very hard worker.

"I spent a couple [of] months here this year, February and March of 2015, getting out of my car every morning and running into Aaron Donald in that parking lot outside as he came in to work at Pitt. I think that guy left the Pro Bowl and came straight back to work. But that doesn't surprise me. I've seen him do it over the course of his college career, and the way his professional career is unfolding is not a surprise to those that know him."

The Steelers got to know Donald quite well in the run-up to the 2014 draft. Donald took a pre-draft visit to Pittsburgh's headquarters. Though some wondered how Donald would fit into the Steelers' 3-4 scheme, there is little doubt now that he would have found a way to make it work.

But it never got that far. The Steelers had the 15th pick and the Rams plucked him at No. 13. Donald says he put away any dreams of playing for the Steelers long before the draft.

Though Donald still has plenty of love for his hometown -- he trains there in the offseason and opened a restaurant "AD's Pittsburgh Cafe" earlier in the year -- he's doing just fine in his new home.

"You never know what's going to happen in the draft," Donald said. "You just wait until your name gets called and then things happen. Everything happens for a reason. I'm happy I’m here."