Bengals’ Tyler Boyd knew Pitt teammate Aaron Donald would become a star

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) celebrates a touchdown with fans.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (83) celebrates a touchdown with fans during a game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 2.
(Emilee Chinn / Associated Press)
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The play remains vivid in the minds of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Cincinnati Bengals slot receiver Tyler Boyd, the eight-year-old, YouTube-worthy effort marking what Boyd saw as Donald’s transition from pro prospect to budding NFL star.

Donald had established himself as a potential first-round pick entering his senior year at Pittsburgh, but it was in the third game of that 2013 season that Boyd, a freshman on that Pitt team, saw the makings of a beast who would become a seven-time All-Pro selection and three-time NFL defensive player of the year.

Duke had driven downfield and had a second-and-10 play from the Pitt 12-yard line when quarterback Brandon Connette tried to run a read-option play to his left.


Before Connette could even decide whether to hand the ball off to running back Josh Snead or keep it himself, Donald burst through the line, wrapped Connette and Snead in his meaty arms and tossed both to the ground for a four-yard loss.

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“That was surreal,” Boyd said in a videoconference in advance of Super Bowl LVI on Sunday between the Rams and Bengals at SoFi Stadium. “We were up, they started to make a comeback, and A.D. wasn’t with it, so he went out there and played like the apex predator he is.

“The quarterback said, ‘Hut,’ he did a read-option with the running back, and A.D. tackled both of them. Once I seen that, it was set in stone for me. I knew right then and there that he was gonna be a great player in the NFL.”

An announcer suggested on the broadcast that Donald deserved not one but two tackles for loss. Donald chuckled when asked about the play.

“Yeah, I remember it, just like [it happened] yesterday,” Donald said. “I seen the guard was light, so I knew he was pulling. I shot through and got back there so fast that the quarterback was kind of giving the ball [to the running back] but not really giving it because he was still reading.

“So I grabbed one guy and the other guy at the same time and took them both down. It was a quick-reaction play. I got back there faster than he was able to hand the ball off.”


The St. Louis Rams selected Donald with the 13th pick in 2014. Boyd followed Donald to the NFL in 2016, and although the second-round pick hasn’t reached a Pro Bowl, he’s had a superb career, with 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2018 and 2019 and 67 catches for 828 yards and five touchdowns in 2021.

And now Donald and Boyd, who both grew up in Pittsburgh — Donald went to Penn Hills High, Boyd to suburban Clairton High — will square off in a Super Bowl, which Donald described as “a pretty dope experience.”

The two hang out occasionally in the offseason, but that friendship will be put aside Sunday.

“I’m very happy for him and his success,” Boyd said of Donald, “but unfortunately there’s only one winner in this game.”

Leading man

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford turned 34 on Monday, spending a portion of his birthday in a virtual 45-minute media session. One questioner asked which actor Stafford would cast as himself if his life story were turned into a movie.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I’ll say Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s one of my favorites — big-time actor. … I don’t know how he is at throwing the football, but with modern technology, I’m sure we can make it look good.”


Stafford, a 13-year pro, said there was still work to do as he prepares to play in his first Super Bowl.

Rams safety Eric Weddle, right, embraces Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady.
Rams safety Eric Weddle, right, embraces Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady after the Rams’ 30-27 playoff victory Jan. 23.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“The way [coach Sean McVay] has the week planned out, I think he’s going to have us primed and ready to go right when Sunday hits,” he said. “So we’re excited about that.

“Is there anticipation? Is there excitement? Absolutely. It’s what you dream of doing when you’re a kid out in the backyard playing catch with your dad, is going out there and getting a chance to play in the Super Bowl.”

Reality check

Eric Weddle, the 37-year-old safety who ended a two-year retirement to return to the Rams in early January, is plenty familiar with Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, and not just because of his film study of the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder who caught 74 passes for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns this season.

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“Maybe I’ll tell him on Sunday, but I played fantasy football for the first time, and he was one of the receivers I drafted, so I watched a lot of him all season because he was on my team,” Weddle said. “And now I have to go stop him in the Super Bowl. It’s crazy how the world works.”


Down, not out

Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah, who suffered a first-quarter knee injury in the AFC championship game, has been limited to side work and riding a stationary bike for much of the last week. But Uzomah, who caught 49 passes for 493 yards and five touchdowns this season, intends to play Sunday.

“I’m not missing the biggest game of my life, right?” Uzomah, 29, said. “That’s my approach going into every day of rehab. If it’s a little sore, it doesn’t matter. When my feet hit the ground, it’s go time.”

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.