While one incredible journey was ending for former University of Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt on Thursday, another was just beginning.
Watt started his career with the Badgers as a walk-on but turned himself into a first-round NFL draft pick when he was selected with the 11th pick overall by the Houston Texans.
Former UW left tackle Gabe Carimi went to the Chicago Bears with the 29th pick overall, giving the Badgers two first-round picks for the first time since 2001. It's just the fourth time at least two UW players went in the first round, with two going in 2000 and three in 1985.
During a teleconference with reporters in Houston shortly after being picked, Watt talked about sacking Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
"The goal is to sack Peyton Manning," Watt said. "That's what everyone around here is saying. That's my job."
Watt, 6-foot-5 1/2, 290 pounds, was the second defensive end and fifth defensive player overall selected. He is the earliest UW defensive player to be drafted since cornerback Troy Vincent was the seventh overall pick by the Miami Dolphins in 1992.
The Texans had Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith rated higher than Watt, but Smith went to the San Francisco 49ers with the seventh pick.
Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said Watt can play defensive end on first and second down in the team's 3-4 alignment, then move inside to tackle in passing situations.
"I feel very comfortable playing anywhere along the defensive line," Watt said.
Phillips said Watt's arrival means Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams, the top pick in the 2006 draft, could be tried at outside linebacker.
"Watt goes 100 miles an hour on every play," Phillips said. "He's big and strong and athletic. He was second on their team in tackles and passes defensed. Think about that. A lineman that size being second in passes defensed. He knocked down a lot of passes."
It's that kind of desire and effort that fueled Watt's rapid rise. He started out as a tight end at Central Michigan and also sold pizzas, before transferring to UW. He was the scout team player of the year while sitting out his transfer year, before starting the last two seasons.
"That was always the goal and the dream," Watt said of playing in the NFL. "I worked every single day towards it, but the feeling I had today I could have never imagined. It's an unbelievable feeling and words can't express how I feel."
Watt, from Pewaukee, credited his work ethic to his parents and the coaches he had growing up.
"The one thing my parents always told me is if you're going to do something, do it a hundred percent," he said. "That's what I try to do on the football field because I feel like I'd be disrespecting the game if I didn't go 100 percent all the time. That's what the Texans are going to get, a guy who comes to work every single day, and I'm going to give it everything I've got."
Watt started 26 games the last two seasons for the Badgers, finishing with 106 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss.
He attended the draft in New York and earlier in the day, he posted this on his Twitter account: "Today is the culmination of one amazing journey & the start of a new one. Thank you to every1 who has helped get me to this point in my life."
Two other former Badgers, tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham, play for the Texans, who were 6-10 a year ago. "I talked to Garrett a couple weeks ago and they love it down there," Watt said.
The Bears picked Carimi, from Cottage Grove, just three spots in front of the Green Bay Packers' first pick at No. 32. The Packers selected Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod.
Carimi did not go to New York, choosing to watch the draft at home because he had to present a capstone project at UW, one of the final steps before earning his degree in civil engineering in May.
While many projections had him going earlier in the draft, Carimi was elated with how it turned out.
"I had a great feeling I would end up with the Bears," he said in a conference call. "I can't be happier to play for them. ... The Bears picked me. I converted about 100 Packers fans to Bears fans. I cannot wait to play for (Mike Tice). He is one of the best coaches in the National Football League."
Tice is the Bears' offensive line coach and the father of Badgers reserve quarterback Nate Tice.
The Bears, who surrendered an NFL-worst 56 sacks last season, wanted Carimi so badly they attempted to trade up to get him. Fearing the Kansas City Chiefs would take him at No. 27, Chicago tried to work a deal with the Baltimore Ravens at No. 26. That fell through at the last minute, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The Chiefs then moved to No. 26, but used the pick on Pittsburgh wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin.
Carimi is expected to be plugged in as the starter at right tackle.
"I know I can play right away," Carimi said. "That's my best asset."