PITTSBURGH—Pitt will have at its disposal two of the finest defensive players in the Atlantic Coast Conference this fall according to Athlon Sports 2013 ACC Football Preview magazine.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald and safety Jason Hendricks were both selected preseason first team All-ACC by Athlon. The two seniors headline a Pitt defense that returns eight starters and ranked 17th nationally in yards allowed last season (330.54 yards/game).

Donald (Pittsburgh, Pa./Penn Hills) was a first-team All-Big East selection last year, compiling 64 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He led the Big East and ranked 12th nationally with 1.54 TFLs per game.

Over the past two seasons, Donald has compiled 18.5 sacks and 37.5 TFLs. He enters his senior year as a viable All-America and major awards candidate.

Hendricks (Brooklyn, N.Y./Hudson Catholic [N.J.]) was a force against the run and pass last year. The second-team All-Big East pick led the Panthers in tackles (90), interceptions (six) and passes defensed (tied with 10). Hendricks’ interception total was the highest by a Pitt player since 2000, while his 0.46 INTs per game led the Big East and ranked sixth nationally.

Hendricks anchored a Pitt secondary that owned lofty 2012 NCAA rankings in pass defense (20th, 194.15 yards/game), pass efficiency defense (21st, 113.12 rating) and interceptions (26th, 15 total). He will eye the Jim Thorpe Award – annually presented to the nation’s top defensive back – in 2013.

Two other Pitt players earned mention in Athlon’s ACC preview. Freshmen Dorian Johnson and Tyler Boyd were both rated among the league’s top 30 signees for this year. Johnson (Belle Vernon, Pa./Belle Vernon Area), an offensive tackle, is rated No. 7, while Boyd (Clairton, Pa./Clairton), a wide receiver, is No. 26.

Athlon’s regional ACC cover (jpeg attached), available on newsstands now, features senior wide receiver Devin Street (Bethlehem, Pa./Liberty). A 2012 All-Big East selection, Street is coming off an exceptional year in which he posted 73 catches for 975 yards (13.4 avg.) and five touchdowns. The Biletnikoff Award candidate (nation’s top receiver) has 151 career receptions and needs just 28 to become the top pass-catcher in Pitt history. (Latef Grim holds the record with 178 catches from 1998-2000.)

The 2013 season marks the Panthers’ first as a member of the ACC. Pitt will open the year with a highly anticipated showdown against defending ACC and Orange Bowl champion Florida State on Labor Day (Sept. 2) at Heinz Field. The ESPN national telecast will kick off at 8 p.m.

The Pitt-FSU contest marks the ACC’s 10th consecutive game on Labor Day night, a streak that began in 2004. The Panthers, who officially join the ACC on July 1, will be making their initial appearance in the Labor Day primetime game. The Seminoles will be making their sixth appearance in this showcase slot.

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