PITTSBURGH — Donovan Jeter has played at Heinz Field before. However, it was not while he was donning the black and gold, but rather the orange and black. Jeter, a native of Pittsburgh, knows all about WPIAL football after playing with the Beaver Falls Tigers. From there, he went to Michigan to play with the Wolverines for five fruitful seasons before finally coming out into the 2022 NFL Draft.
Coming out of the process, Jeter was not selected, but nearly right away signed with his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. It represented something of a full-circle moment for Jeter. As someone who grew up in Pittsburgh, he knew all about the Steelers. But he had many teams calling him to see if he would potentially sign on with them. The Steelers not only wanted the hometown player but gave him the most money, too. For Jeter, it was an easy decision.
“Fortunately for me, there were a lot of teams that reached out to my agent,” Jeter said. “The Steelers reached out at the end of Round 6. They said they’d love to have me on the defensive line. They offered the most money. It was a great fit, and I know the climate. I played football here for 15 years of my life. It was just a dream come true. Obviously, all of my family, they are all Steelers fans, so being in this locker room is such a blessing.”
In reality, Jeter’s hometown is only about a 45-minute drive away from Pittsburgh. That means he has something very special for his parents, friends, and family to see as he develops into an NFL player. With his family so close to him, Jeter feels something special here. He is hoping to simply crack the 53-man roster, but there is a special feeling that bubbles up in him. A Steelers fan growing up, Jeter knew all about the Steelers. So, getting to live the life of a Steelers player on a daily basis is surreal for the Michigan product.
“It’s just great man,” Jeter said of the homecoming. “Being in this locker room with some of these vets, they are really open to helping me. They want you to be the best player you can be. It’s cool being home and close to the family and friends I grew up with. I’ve watched the Steelers play for as long as I can remember. It’s just a blessing. There aren’t words to describe it.”
During his illustrious high school career with Beaver Falls, Jeter experienced the highs of the WPIAL system. He was part of the legendary 2016 Beaver Falls team that delivered the Tigers their first WPIAL title since 1984. It all could come full circle for Jeter, who delivered a WPIAL title at Heinz Field to his alma mater. Now, this time, he could re-enter the gates on the North Shore and be a Pittsburgh Steeler.
“God-willing, I’ll make the 53-man roster and contribute on Sundays, but it’d be amazing, man,” Jeter said. “I think there is no atmosphere remotely close to Heinz Field. That’s for a playoff game, a big game, and especially every Sunday. I’ve been fortunate to come to 2 or 3 games throughout my life and just to see how much these fans love ball and how much they care about the Steelers, it’s amazing. I hope I can get a chance to contribute on Sundays.”
Growing up a defensive lineman in the mid-2010s in Pittsburgh, there was no one that Jeter looked up to more than Cam Heyward. Now, he gets to play with one of the best defensive lineman in the NFL. Heyward is aging like fine wine, but Jeter has been a fan of Heyward’s for nearly a decade at this point. The mentorship that Jeter has with Heyward is surreal, but also instrumental in making Jeter’s NFL career fruitful. For Jeter, he may be his hero, but he is also a lifeline at this current stage.
“It’s amazing working with Cam,” Jeter said. “Working with him, Tyson (Alualu), they’ve all been really insightful. They are not larger than life. They are very open and helpful. They’re very easy to talk to and they are one of the guys. I’ve been a Cam Heyward fan for, you know I was talking about Cam Heyward to my friends in high school and at Michigan, forever. I would tell them all about how good Cam Heyward was. He wasn’t getting the recognition he deserved. So, that was delayed a little bit. But he is a monster. Now, he’s finally putting up the stats, but he’s a monster. He’s finally getting the attention he deserves.”
Jeter joins a host of Michigan talent in Devin Bush and Chris Wormley in the room. Given the host of Big 10 talent in the locker room, including Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, and others, there is a little bit of a back and forth between them. Jeter is now a part of that group. Still, though, it feels as if the journey has come full circle for Jeter. He was a Steelers fan growing up, and now has an opportunity to play for his hometown team. It will require a great offseason program, but the Steelers like Jeter and his upside. If anyone watched Beaver Falls during his run, they know Jeter has enough to stick.