J.J. Watt is guarding an important secret with the focus and determination of a security officer outside the Area 51 base. Though he will reveal its location, the contents remain a mystery, and Watt only discusses it in vague terms.
So what the heck could be on the list of goals Watt has tucked away in his office drawer anyway?
“I’ve thought about sharing my goals in the past,” Watt told FOXSportsWisconsin.com. “But if I were to show everybody my goals last year that I wrote down before the season, they would have called me crazy and they would have said, ‘Yeah, good luck man, there’s no way.’ But I accomplished them.
“And this year I have a whole new set of goals. And if I showed them to people this year, even after last year, they’d say, ‘You’re crazy.’ So what I’ve learned is I keep it to myself.”
Given the way Watt terrorized opposing teams on his way to earning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, one can only imagine what he has in store for an encore.
Watt, the Houston Texans defensive end and former University of Wisconsin standout, produced arguably the single greatest defensive season in NFL history in just his second year in the league. He became the first player to lead the NFL in run stuffs, quarterback sacks and batted passes, achieving the “Triple Crown” for a defensive lineman according to Stats LLC, which began tracking all three categories in 1992.
Consider that his 23.5 run stuffs (tackles for losses on rushing plays) nearly doubled the previous record of 12 set by Indianapolis Colts linebacker Kavell Conner in 2011. His 15 batted passes beat the 11 set by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen in 2007. And his 20.5 sacks were two shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season record with the New York Giants in 2001.
In total, Watt’s 59 disruptive plays destroyed the second-best combined mark, held by Allen in 2007 (35.5).
It was no surprise, then, when Watt earned 49 of 50 votes for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Perhaps the only surprise was that Denver linebacker Von Miller received one vote, and Watt wasn’t a unanimous choice.
The 6-foot-5, 295-pound Watt said his mission last season was to be the best in every category, and his objectives certainly won’t change in 2013 — even if replicating his numbers would seem nearly impossible to outside observers.
“A lot of people ask me, ‘Do you think you can do what you did last year?'” Watt said. “And my answer is no. I don’t want to do what I did last year. It’s not my goal to repeat last year. I want to be better. If I was going out there trying to be as good as I was last year, it would be a disservice to myself, a disservice to the fans and to my team. I need to be going every single day and trying to improve, and so that’s what I’m doing.”
Watt has squeezed in his workouts around a busy offseason in which he has traveled the globe making promotional appearances, attending awards shows or simply getting away from the superstar lifestyle. He recently visited Ireland with his best friend and traveled to Afghanistan as part of a USO tour to give back to American troops and thank them for their service.
“I’ll probably log more frequent flyer miles this offseason than in my entire life combined,” Watt said. “It’s been awesome. I’ve had every great opportunity. I’m never in one spot for more than a few days or a week.”
Watt, a Pewaukee, Wis., native, is taking a rare break from his travels this week as he returns home for the J.J. Watt Foundation 5K Run/Walk. The event will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Waukesha County Technical College. Watt said he anticipated about 500 participants.
The 24-year-old Watt has attained great success with his charitable works because he has a magnetic personality and an inspirational story that draws others to him. In April, Watt and his Texans teammates helped raise $300,000 at a charity softball game for Watt’s foundation.
Watt often signs autographs until the last person in line leaves and makes surprise appearances for his young fans. In late January, for example, he visited a 6-year-old Texans fan named Breanna, who gained Internet fame after a video posted of her crying because she couldn’t marry Watt.
On Wednesday, Watt spent time in Madison at a function in which his foundation donated $10,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. The foundation provides after-school opportunities for children in Houston and across Wisconsin.
Watt’s story of perseverance has become well known across the state. He once delivered pizzas in his hometown after dropping out from Central Michigan, taking classes at a local community college and developing his body for the chance to be a star someday at Wisconsin. In two seasons with the Badgers, he transformed himself into one of the best defensive ends in the country and was drafted 11th overall by the Texans in 2011.
He signed a four-year, $11.23 million contract, and when that expires, Watt surely will become one of the highest paid defensive players in the league. In 2012, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney was the highest paid player in the NFL, earning $19 million.
All the opportunities Watt has created for himself and others aren’t lost on him. He attributed his success, in part, to maintaining his family’s values of working hard and recognizing the need to earn his way. He also realizes that without a continued drive, those opportunities would vanish in the future. For that reason, among others, he doesn’t have time to reminisce about his accomplishments just yet.
After all, there is an entirely new set of goals resting in his drawer for him to chase.
“The second that I start looking back and I start thinking about what I’ve already done, I kind of lose that edge and I lose what I’m looking forward to,” Watt said. “And there’s still so much left for me to accomplish that someday I’ll be in a rocking chair hanging out by the lake somewhere and I’ll think about, ‘Wow, all that stuff was pretty cool.’ But for right now, there’s way too much left to accomplish. I can’t think about it yet.”