ATLANTA — Preparing to face Aaron Donald on the football field will be challenging enough for the New England Patriots. Things might have been even tougher if the matchup against the Rams star defensive end took place not at Super Bowl LIII on Sunday, but at a ping-pong table.
Donald said he put his talent on display at the Atlanta Falcons’ training camp, where the Rams are practicing this week.
“I got a table and started showing off a little bit,’’ he said Tuesday. “I can do a lot. I’m pretty good at ping pong. I brag about that a lot.’’
The topic came up when a reporter from China began telling Donald about a tournament next month that features top ping-pong players.
“Can I compete with them? I don’t think so, but I’ll try,’’ Donald said with smile. “It’s just a little hobby. I’ve been playing since I was like 14 and just got good at it playing over the years. It’s something I stuck with.’’
At one point, it seemed Donald’s chances of making it as an NFL star were about as good as his chances of playing on the pro table-tennis circuit in China. At 6-foot-1, he was considered undersized coming out of high school in 2009 and didn’t generate much interest from big-time programs.
He signed with the University of Pittsburgh, not far from where Donald grew up. “You will always have guys that doubt you,’’ he said.
His senior year at Pitt, Donald was a unanimous All-American and named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. The accolades just keep coming.
Picked by the Rams 13th overall in the 2014 draft, Donald has made the Pro Bowl in each of his five NFL seasons and this season recorded 20.5 sacks, giving him a career total of 59.5 sacks.
“God just blessed me with quickness and speed, I guess,’’ Donald said. “I’m able to see things and react certain ways trying to slither through there and trying to make a play.’’
Said Patriots running back Rex Burkhead, “Donald’s a tremendous player, one of the best I’ve seen.’’
And we’re pretty sure Burkhead was talking about football, not ping pong.