It’s been a long road for JJ Watt from delivering pizzas to leading one of the NFL’s top defenses while making a case for defensive player of the year honors. But it’s a road that lit the fire in the soul of a player determined to succeed.
2008 was an embarrassing year for the player Pewaukee (Wis.) residents knew as the dominating tight end who had gone on to Central Michigan and started as a true freshman. It was the same year JJ left school because he was playing tight-end in an offense that essentially used him as an extra blocker instead of a weapon. Despite Central Michigan being the one spot he had a chance to play after many teams overlooked the high school senior recovering from mono and barely weighing 215, JJ had to change his situation.
JJ wanted to transfer to the University of Wisconsin – a move that he’d have to make as a walk-on. His parents could only afford to help him for one year. JJ made the decision – he would earn a scholarship after one year or quit, get a job, and just be a student. In order to qualify for Wisconsin, JJ had to earn six credits at a local community college. It was there he doubled as a pizza delivery man for Pizza Hut. Coworkers and friends laughed at the idea of their delivery man playing at the local Big Ten school.
They said he was “too small to compete.” Those words provided the gasoline on a spirit already full of fire and determined to find a way to play for the Badgers. JJ wasn’t going to be content, he wanted more. So JJ made the decision to compete for his future. He worked out like a madman and ate to grow. By the time he left for Wisconsin, he weight a whopping 280 pounds and was ready to line up on the defensive line.
Once he arrived in Madison, JJ treated every practice snap as if it were the Super Bowl.
“When JJ walked in the door, you couldn’t have anticipated him doing what he did. But once he got on scout team, you could see he was going to be a force. He took advantage of every little bit of coaching he got,” said Wisconsin defensive line coach Charlie Partridge.
JJ earned his scholarship a year later and then spent four years destroying Big Ten offenses. JJ racked up multiple accolades and was drafted 11th overall by the Houston Texans in the 2011 NFL Draft.
AFC South teams are learning what Big Ten offenses learned the past four years – JJ Watt is a beast. This year, through five games, JJ is dominating the NFL from his defensive end position, with 26 tackles, 8 pass deflections, and 8.5 sacks. He’s leading the field for the NFL’s best defensive player this year – and we’re only 5 games in. He will be relied upon even more now that teammate and rising star linebacker Brian Cushing is out for the year with an injury.
All of this because JJ chose to compete when others said he was too small and his goals were too lofty. The next time critics choose to tell you what is “reality,” choose to show them otherwise. Choose to compete like JJ Watt.