University of Wisconsin redshirt freshman fullback Derek Watt couldn’t wait to settle into his apartment Monday night and watch his brother, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, play on national television against the New York Jets.
Typically, when the Texans are playing on Sunday afternoons, Derek Watt has meetings or practice with the Badgers.
He didn’t want to invite a bunch of friends over, preferring to watch the game with his roommates, to better concentrate on the action.
“I wanted to sit there and enjoy an actual full game I got to watch,” Derek said.
When J.J. Watt made a tackle on the first play of the Texans’ 23-17 win, using a nice swim move, Derek sent him a text message, just as J.J. had done for him after Derek’s 26-yard reception in the 31-14 win over Illinois last week.
Derek looked at the time of the text and saw his brother sent it to him during the game, so he wanted to do the same thing.
“So, I gave him a little motivation there,” Derek said. “As soon as he saw the text, I wanted him to be happy.”
Later, Derek called his brother’s sack by looking at the formation and telling his roommate during the cadence, “He needs to get this sack.”
J.J. Watt leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks, which is stunning to most observers, given he is a 3-4 end, a position not known for generating big sack totals.
“It’s surprising based off of his position,” Derek said. “But it doesn’t surprise me, with his work ethic and his ability. I know what he can do.”
Meanwhile, T.J. Watt, the youngest of the three brothers and a high school senior who has given an oral commitment for UW’s 2013 class, is a quarterback and linebacker for undefeated Pewaukee.
“Life is pretty good in the Watt family,” Derek said with a wide smile.
That’s the case with Derek, who is literally learning on the run as UW’s starting fullback. He moved to the position midway through preseason camp after previously playing linebacker.
“The way he has come on, I would say, has exceeded expectations a little bit,” offensive coordinator Matt Canada said.
Watt started out sharing time with Sherard Cadogan, but quickly claimed the fullback position as his own.
“He’s come a long way,” running backs coach Thomas Hammock said. “He’s kind of learning by trial by fire. He’s starting to come through on the other side, really getting better week to week and continuing to grow as a player.”
Watt’s ability to quickly pick things up was evident on his long catch down the sideline on a wheel route last week, when he absorbed a hit to the helmet and still hung onto the ball.
During a recent practice, Watt had turned around and reached up with his arms to make a similar catch. Hammock quickly corrected him, saying he would expose himself to hits that way and to catch the ball over his shoulder.
“Obviously, if he had tried to reach out (on Saturday), that safety might have stopped him from catching the ball,” Hammock said. “He worked on what he needed to work on and made a nice play for us.”
As a high school senior, Watt almost never left the field, playing running back, linebacker, punter, kicker and returner, while being named The Associated Press’ State Player of the Year.
The one thing he didn’t do much of in Pewaukee’s wing-T offense was block. When he did, it was mostly outside, on smaller defensive backs.
Now, the 6-foot-2, 227-pound Watt is being asked to sift through traffic, go against linebackers often bigger than him, while trying to utilize techniques he is still trying to master.
“A couple weeks ago I really started feeling comfortable,” Watt said.
“Starting out, it was different. You’ve got to get rolling and get used to it. I feel like I’m in a little bit of a groove now, where it’s coming to me now and I can get better every day.”
Perhaps the best place to view Watt’s natural football instincts is on any of the four special teams units he starts on. He already has seven tackles and is often the first one down the field covering punts or kickoffs.
Watt is glad he still gets to use some of his linebacker skills.
“I’m just trying to make a tackle and get that ball down,” he said. “There’s nothing better than making a play, just being involved.”
It’s all part of being a football player for Watt, who is anxious to do anything that gets him on the field.
“He’s a football player, that’s the best thing to say about him,” Canada said. “He’s found a role, makes plays, makes catches, he blocks. I wasn’t around but last year (at linebacker), he had a knack for finding a way to get to his guy.”