With all the hype surrounding National Signing Day and the various recruiting sites around the web glorifying 17- and 18-year old young men, it is tough to imagine a two-star recruit from Pewaukee High School being any sort of a playmaker at the collegiate level, much less the National Football League.
Yet, after the season former Badger standout and current Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt just had, it looks like anything is possible in the world of sports with Watt’s mantra: “Dream Big Work Hard.”
The phrase looks pretty simplistic to me on the surface. Heck, anyone can dream big and work hard but Watt talked the talk and, more importantly, walked the walk, earning 2012 AP Defensive Player of the Year honors in the process.
Watt didn’t even start out at the position that analysts and fans salivate over; instead earning a scholarship to play tight end at Central Michigan, a program that was graced with his presence for a year.
All right, so maybe the recruiting sites were right, maybe Watt was nothing more than a lousy two-star recruit. Think again. After his transfer from Central Michigan, Watt traded in his pizza delivery hat for a spot on the Badgers roster and resorted back to his mantra of “Dream Big Work Hard” to prove the doubters wrong.
It certainly proved them wrong as Watt would go on to earn All-American honors during his time in the red and white before declaring for the 2011 NFL Draft.
The result of Watt’s four-word mantra in the NFL helped him shine on the national stage during his two first years in the league. During his rookie campaign, Watt registered 48 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He followed that up with a historic season as he accumulated a whopping 20.5 sacks, 69 sacks and an NFL-record 16 tipped passes.
Statistically, it was regarded as one of the greatest defensive seasons in Texans history and even in NFL history. Not too bad for a kid who used to deliver pizzas.
While his statistics are off the charts, that’s not why I root for him. I root for him because he is an even better person off the field than he is on the field and those are big shoes to fill.
He started the J.J. Watt Foundation, which provides “after-school opportunities for children in the community to become involved in athletics.” He has been aggressively active in the Houston community, making regular visits to local children’s hospitals and serving as a role model to countless people, both young and old.
He is not about the glitz or glamour, but rather a solid Wisconsin kid who brings his lunch bucket to work everyday on the gridiron and in the community.
While his story is remarkable in its own right, Wisconsin fans should not be shocked by another Badger making a name for himself at the next level. Past players like Scott Tolzien, Joe Panos, Justin Leonhard and Mark Tauscher to name a few who were fairly under the radar coming out of high school but all earned a spot on their respective NFL teams.
Whether it’s Watt or Tolzien or whoever it may be, it’s hard not to root for these guys, no matter where your college allegiance stands.
Despite my disgust for its publicity, National Signing Day will continue to have prevalence in the years to come and five-star recruits will continue to draw the headlines.
On the other hand, guys like Watt will be undervalued by so-called “pundits.” Wisconsin will continue to see their fair share of undervalued recruits under head coach Gary Andersen but as long as they carry Watt’s mantra of “Dream Big, Work Hard,” anything is possible.
Do you think that undervalued recruits will continue to carry the Badgers? Can J.J. Watt repeat his Defensive Player of the year awards? Let Rex know what you think at email@example.com