The Defensive Player of the Year—just 24—on fame, fun and how he can improve on one of the greatest defensive seasons ever
HOUSTON—It would be easy to tell J.J. Watt he's crazy if he weren’t so darn imposing. At 6-5 and a chiseled 288, he meets The MMQB’s editor-in-chief, Peter King, in a private spot outside the Texans’ locker room at Reliant Stadium ... and proceeds to dish on a life chock-full of fun in just 24 years. And about how determined he is to ensure the best year of his life didn’t come at age 23. Watt had 20.5 sacks, an NFL record 16 passes batted down, and tackled 39 runners for either no gain or a loss. His thoughts on ...
His favorite saying
“'Complacency kills progress.’ That’s when you’re not focused on being the best. You’re satisfied. That is not me.’’
“It’s possible. It’s definitely possible. People have had more sacks than I had last year. Tackles for loss, probably too. Passes broken up—I don’t think anyone’s had more, but I know I can do better. I can think of two or three plays I’d like to have back—like the time I had Christian Ponder a quarter-inch from his knee hitting the ground for a sack before he got rid of the ball. I’ll finish the job this year on a play like that.’’
“I grew up in Wisconsin loving hockey. I mean, I started when I was three years old on skates. I played all over—in Canada all the time, all over the U.S., over in Germany for a 10-day tournament. Hockey, honestly, was my first love. The excitement, the fast pace, the intensity of the game ... I still love it to this day. Really, I had to quit. It was financial. I have two younger brothers and we were all playing on a travel team, and it was extremely expensive. My family is a middle class family. When I grew up and learned how much it actually cost for us to play hockey, I could not believe that my parents let us play as long as they did. Now I’m forever grateful for my parents even giving me the opportunity, because honestly those were some of the best years of my life. Now that I understand how much it cost, I’m so thankful to my parents. I wasn’t always this big, so I was more of a center back then and a goal scorer. Loved the game. Still do. I love the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s one of my favorite sporting events ... And [6-9 Bruins defenseman] Zdeno Chara—he’s representing for all us big guys out there. I love him. I love his physical brand of hockey."
Winning the Wisconsin state shotput title in 2007
“Well my dad had the school record for the shot put at my high school. I’d never done it before, so my senior year at Pewaukee High School I said, ‘Let’s see what I can do.’ I went out there and ended up winning the state championship, and breaking my dad’s record by, I think, five or six feet. I threw it 59 feet, 11 1/2 inches, I think. Both my brothers decided to do it from their freshman years of high school on. So, my middle brother won state and my youngest brother won state. That was kind of neat. My youngest brother actually threw 60 feet, two inches. So he beat me by two-and-a-half inches. I’m not too happy about that.”
His brothers as Badgers
“It’s awesome and it’s difficult to have them at Wisconsin now. The three of us are extremely close. But they know that they’re going to get the comparisons. They know that a lot of times people are going to call them my younger brothers. Derek is the starting fullback. T.J. is redshirting this year as a freshman. He’s a tight end. But they have accepted the challenge of making a name for themselves. A lot of kids would crumble in that situation and say, ‘Oh, J.J. did it all, there’s nothing left for us.’ They want to go be a better college player than I was. I think that’s what makes me so proud of them."
Expectations from offenses in 2013
“You know, a lot of people have theories on what other teams are going to do to me. But if you watch the second half of last year, teams tried new things there. I mean teams tried double-teams, triple-teams, chip blocks. There’s only so much you can do, because at some point you have to block [fellow defensive end] Antonio Smith. You have to block [linebackers] Whitney Mercilus, Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed. You can’t block us all and double-team us all. That’s one thing that I study myself to see where I can improve my game, but this offseason I also studied other teams to see what their plan might be. My job is whatever they throw at me, it’s their job to stop me. I’m going out there to make a play. I don’t know if [defensive coordinator] Wade Phillips will move me around more, but I’ll definitely move around some.’’
“Physically, early in the offseason I added a second workout to my day. Last season I was one workout a day. This season I made it two. But then, just from a knowledge standpoint, a nutrition standpoint, I’ve gained so much experience over the past year or two years in the NFL. I’m fortunate enough to be in the position from playing in this league that I can afford to eat healthy and afford to eat properly. That’s made such a difference in my career. In college you’re trying to get by on scholarship checks. In the league you can afford to eat the healthy food. You can afford to get the groceries you need to get, and that’s made a big difference.’’
“This offseason, I ate a lot of vegetables. I hate vegetables, but I made myself eat vegetables. I ate a ton of lean proteins—chicken breasts, eggs, and all these things. And it was really focused on leaning down my body. I’m 290 pounds. I want to be big, extremely strong, but also way quicker than people expect me to be, and way faster than people expect me to be. The only way to do that is lean muscle mass. So I tried to trim down the fat and amp up the lean muscle.’’
Playing two snaps in the preseason
“The coaches had a plan and it’s just making me hungrier and hungrier for September 9th. I’m extremely hungry. [His voice goes an octave or two lower. He speaks deliberately.] I’m like an animal in a cage that you haven’t given food to in a while. As soon as you let me out, something is getting eaten.”
“I think fame is cool. It’s something that—you can look at it two ways. It’s an opportunity to utilize your fame and use it for good and use it for positive things. Or it can crumble you and it can create so much pressure that you fail. For me, I look at it as for these next eight to 10 years, however long I am fortunate enough to play in the NFL, I’m gonna enjoy it and I’m gonna embrace it. It’s part of it. That means you’re playing good. If you’re famous on the football field that means you’re playing good football. When I’m done, I just want to kind of be a regular guy, a high school football coach and enjoy that life. But while I’m in it, while the spotlight is here, I might as well enjoy it because it’s not gonna go away. I might as well use it for good and use it for positive things."
Watt at 40
“Probably a high school football coach. I hope so, anyway. Inside all of us football players, we love football. We want to just coach it and be able to mold young kids into great people. That’s what high school coaching does. It gives you a chance to help improve a kid’s life and give him chances to succeed.”
“I went to Ireland with my best friend for 10 days this offseason. What was weird was maybe 15 or 20 people recognized me. Once, we’re in Dublin, and we were just walking down the street and somebody looked at me and I was just dressed like a normal person. That was the goal for Ireland, to just go somewhere where nobody knew who I was. Somebody came up to me and was like, ‘Do you play football?’ So I said, ‘Maybe.’ And he said, ‘You’re JJ Watt, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘How do you know that?’ He said, ‘I love football. I wake up and watch it every weekend.’ This is cool. It’s so crazy to see the game growing. But, the best part of Ireland was relaxing. It was the whole trip—being able to just sit back and look at the scenery and enjoy it.’’
Proposing to a six-year-old
“I was in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl, and somebody sent me the video of Breanna’s YouTube recording and she was crying. Her mom asked her why she was crying and she said, ‘Because I’m not old enough to marry J.J. Watt.’ I said, ‘We have to do something. This is too cute. I feel too bad.’ So we got connected with Breanna and we made it happen. We brought her to the stadium and tried to do it with as little fanfare as possible. I said no media, just you and your family. It was a special day, man. It was really cool. She was six. Now she’s seven. I gave her my white jersey as a wedding dress. We had our first dance. We had flowers. We had ring pops. She’ll be at a game—I think she’s coming to the Oakland game this year. It was just one of those special things. Any way you can connect with the fans is really cool. So, it was pretty neat. It was a fun experience and she’s such a cute little girl. That’s the kind of thing … when you talk about fame, you talk about using it for good. And that is one thing I just love to do—connect with fans and try to do one small thing to help their lives when I can.’’
“You’re gonna have to watch. I am 24 years old. There is no way—no way—my best season came at age 23.’’