Aug. 2, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Three days in Dublin, Ireland. Three days in Paris, France. Three days in London, England. Three days in Rome, Italy. Twelve days in getaway bliss. Or maybe the tweet from Europe should read, “Three brothers just chasing our dreams.”
The brothers? J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans and Derek and T.J. Watt of the Wisconsin Badgers. The backdrop? Not NRG Stadium, not Camp Randall Stadium, but the ancient Roman Colosseum.
“We loved Rome, we loved the Colosseum,” Derek Watt said. “We took a picture of all three of us in the Colosseum. It was kind of a chilling experience knowing the history that was there and the gladiator mentality that we kind of have as football players.”
What was labeled as a “little brother trip” took place in January shortly after the Badgers lost to South Carolina and Jadeveon Clowney in the Florida Citrus Bowl and the Texans dropped their 14th-straight game in a disasterous season that netted them the No. 1 pick in the draft, Clowney.
“During the offseason, we usually get together for a little bit,” Derek said. “But this was 12 to 15 days together. It was just us doing whatever we wanted to do -- brother things -- just hanging out and catching up, stuff like that. It was a great experience.”
And it proved that there are places in the world where J.J. Watt can go unrecognized. Sort of.
“To be honest, the whole trip was pretty solid that way,” said Derek. “There was one guy in Ireland who recognized him. Most people would look at him because he’s a big guy, but they wouldn’t necessarily know who he was.
“I would say there was maybe one or two instances at each place (country) where someone would kind of recognize him and made him stop (for an autograph or picture). Other than that, it was just a nice, relaxing brotherly vacation where we got to spend a lot of quality time together.”
T.J. was responsible for the “Three brothers just chasing a dream” tweet from the Colosseum. They’ve posed together before, including a group shot with Florida Georgia Line, whose first single was “Cruise.” Fittingly, the entire Watt family went on a Caribbean cruise last spring.
That trip was also on the Big Bro or Big Broski (as T.J. Watt has tweeted).
“He (J.J.) does his offseason training like nobody else,” Derek said. “He’s trying to be the best person, the best player that he can be. But, like anyone else, he needs some time off and he wanted some family time. He makes time for us and we respect that and we love seeing him.”
Derek and T.J. love quoting him, too, via Twitter. Especially this signature gem from J.J. on his passionate “Dream Big, Work Hard” commitment to excellence, “Right now, I’m a football player and I will sacrifice whatever it is necessary to be the best.”
Outside of Houston, J.J. trains in Waukesha at NX Level with Brad Arnett. “That’s where we trained growing up,” Derek said. “We’re here (Madison) all summer and we have class and we’re doing our thing with the team. He visited us a couple of times and we went back home on weekends.
“He (J.J.) definitely goes the extra mile (in training), that’s for sure.”
Meanwhile, it has been a critical off-season for T.J., a redshirt freshman tight end, just from the standpoint of getting healthy. “He has been rehabbing and working hard,” Derek said. “I don’t see anything slowing him down. I see great strides out of him and expect big things from him this fall.”
T.J. has tweeted out some things that would lead you to believe that he’s ready to take another step in his development as a college player, such things as “A man on a mission” and “Every setback is an opportunity to be better than you were before” and “Dreams don’t work unless you do.”
On the heels of Media Day at Camp Randall Stadium, Derek Watt tweeted, “It’s about that time! Working to get ourselves on the field together this season!” Hashtag: “Bash Bros.”
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen alluded to just the possibility Friday during his news conference. “The Watt brothers will be playing some tight end,” he said, “even possibly at the same time.”
Andersen made some news last spring when he revealed that Derek, a two-year starter at fullback, would also get some snaps at tight end or U-Back or H-Back or Wingback, or whatever you want to call it.
What is Derek calling it? “I would call it a hybrid-type position,” he said.
He then elaborated. “It’s kind of a grab-bag,” he said. “I’ll be in the backfield as a traditional fullback. I’m at wingback doing some different things. I’m split out doing some different things. I’ve got my hand on the line (of scrimmage) doing some different things. It’s a mix of different plays.”
That the Wisconsin coaching staff has so much confidence in Derek doing all of the above has not gone unnoticed by him. On the contrary, he pointed out, “I feel humbled and honored that they feel they can trust me to do so many different things at a high level.”
While it has taken considerable time and energy and off-season focus to make the transition to tight end from fullback -- and make no mistake about it, Derek is still a fullback -- it hasn’t been as sudden of a turnaround as it was from linebacker to fullback during the midst of 2012 preseason training camp.
“This has been a little bit more of a slight transition,” he said. “But tight end is definitely not an easy position, especially here at Wisconsin. There’s a lot expected of the tight ends in our offense and there are a tremendous amount of routes, play calls, jumps, trades and alignments that goes into it.
“It has been a long offseason in the film room and Sam Arneson (a senior and part-time starter last season) has been kind of a mentor to me. I’ve had more time to adapt and learn the tight end position than I had initially learning the fullback position.”
Derek has gotten his weight up 240 pounds. Now, it’s a matter of sustaining through camp.
“Every year I try to take a step forward and improve obviously,” said Derek, a fourth-year junior. “Our team has done a lot of tremendous things in the offseason with the young guys stepping up and being anxious to learn and the old guys being kind of mentors and bringing them along with us.”
Derek Watt and T.J. Watt have played on the same field together before. At Pewaukee High School, Derek was the middle linebacker and T.J. was an outside ‘backer. “I recall when he had an interception,” Derek said, “and I ran over and picked him up off the ground. That was pretty special.”
He also remembered, “We ran some fakes and I threw him a couple of two-point conversions. It was pretty cool to directly impact each other on a play. Being on the field, next to each other? There’s a pretty good chance as tight ends here and that would be something special, especially at this level.”
Of course, it will be pretty special to open the 2014 season against LSU in J.J.’s “I’ve been there (Houston) many times, just being there to be there, hanging out with him,” Derek said. “It will be a cool experience playing where the Big Bro is playing.”
The offseason has not been all fun and road trips for the Watt boys.
In late February, their grandfather passed away. James Watt was 81. “He never missed a practice or game. You were and always will be mine and my brother’s #1 fan,” T.J. tweeted. Added Derek, “Speaking at grandpa’s funeral was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
The three brothers will continue to chase their dreams with his memory close to their heart. “You only get one shot,” Derek tweeted. “I’m trying to make the most of mine; trying to reach the things that I can’t see. #DreamBigWorkHard.”