June 23, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- For many Wisconsin football fans, J.J. Watt is a household name. The same cannot always be said for the classrooms he visits when he donates his time to the community.
“Some kids have no clue what I do or some will ask what sport I play,” he said. “Some kids can’t distinguish me from a quarterback or anything. It’s always fun and a new experience every time, and it’s always a blast.”
That isn’t to say the Pewaukee, Wis., native always goes unnoticed.
“It depends on the grade and on the location,” he explained. “Some of the teachers have the kids prepped really well. They know exactly who I am, and they have pictures on the wall.”
Watt never knows quite what to expect when he does visit a classroom, but that adds to the fun of it.
“I’ve had kids ask some of the weirdest questions ever.” He said. “For example, one time a kid asked if I enjoyed pickles on my hamburger or kids have asked what kind of meat I like. Kids ask the weirdest questions. It’s like that Bill Cosby show, ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things,’ because kids have wild minds and it’s awesome to see them asking questions. It’s always in good fun.”
Such is life for the defensive end that is looking to anchor the line for the 2010 Badger football team.
Along with serving as a mentor along the line, Watt is trying to fill the same role in the community and he’s willing to do whatever he can, even if that means starting his own charity.
“Anything anyone asks I try to do, really,” Watt elaborated. “I go to middle schools and elementary schools and read. I try to go to as many events as possible. I go to hospitals a lot.
“I’m actually trying to start my own charity right now to get sports into the lives of children in hospitals, because I worked with Jaxson Hinkens, who Scott [Tolzien] worked with a lot. Anything I can do to reach back to the community and give back is really what I try to do.”
Watt began his career at Central Michigan before transferring to UW. It was there in Mount Pleasant, Mich., that Watt first got the taste of community service.
“When I was at Central Michigan, the first time they said they had an opportunity to go an elementary school and read some books I said ‘Sure, sounds like fun.’ When I came to Madison, there were a hundred million opportunities to do that.
“Every time I have an open spot in my calendar I go because stuff like that is more important than me watching TV or playing video games. Anytime I can do something like that, it definitely hits home with me.”
Whether in Wisconsin or Michigan, the location doesn’t matter to Watt because he knows it’s not every day that kid can hang out with a college athlete.
“I do it anywhere I can,” he said. “Whenever I’m back home, I try to do it at home. I always do it in Madison. Really anywhere I go, especially when I go back to Central Michigan because the people there have been so good to me, so I try to give back to the communities there.
“Anywhere that’s willing to take me, I’ll definitely go because for kids to get the opportunity to meet a Division I football player, it’s a pretty special opportunity. I know I would’ve been pretty happy if I were the kid, so I try to take advantage of that opportunity as much as I can.”