MADISON, WI (January 23, 2018) — Former Wisconsin Badger star defensive lineman J. J. Watt is one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. The honor recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service as well as excellence on the football field.
Watt helped to raise more than $37 million for the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in just 19 days. He began with a donation of $100,000, hoping to raise an additional $100,000. He quickly exceeded his initial goal as his online fundraising campaign drew worldwide attention from other athletes, celebrities, and organizations. Watt selected several organizations that can help to rebuild Houston and other areas of southwest Texas as the recipients of the funds.
Helping others beat the odds is in Watt’s DNA. In fact, Watt himself beat the odds as a walk-on at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2008.
“I was told, ‘You’re not big enough; you’re not fast enough [to play at Wisconsin],’ ” he recalls. “When people who don’t believe in you say you can’t make it, that’s just more motivation.”
Watt was also spurred on by having promised his parents he would earn a scholarship to the UW. “At that time, failure was not an option. I was gambling on myself. There was just no option but to make it work,” he says. “There was a belief in myself to start with. And I put in the work. When you put in the work, you start to believe in yourself even more.”
Wisconsin walk-ons who succeed use that built-in chip on their shoulder to motivate them to greater heights, Watt says. “You’re happy to be on the team, but you have to do that much more to earn your place. It gives you an edge. You know you have to go above and beyond what the other scholarship players have to do,” he says.
“When you have to go through difficult times, it makes the victory that much sweeter.”
As a finalist for this year’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, life is certainly sweet. Watt, along with Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen and Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson are the three finalists from a group of 32 nominees. The winner will be announced on the eve of Super Bowl LII during NFL Honors, a primetime awards ceremony that will air on February 3 on NBC.
Contact: Tod Pritchard, firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-609-5217, @WisAlumni