For National Sibling Day, check out this article from November of 2016 in which Houston Texans' star J.J. Watt weighed in on his younger brother, Derek.
Sunday's Week 12 match against the Houston Texan is a game fullback Derek Watt circled on his calendar the moment he was drafted. After all, it would provide a rare chance to face off against his older brother, J.J..
Unfortunately, Houston’s star defensive end won’t suit up as he is out for the year with a back injury. While he’ll miss the game, the elder Watt couldn’t be prouder of how Derek has performed over his first 10 games as he’s kept a close eye on his younger brother.
The more J.J. talks, the clearer it becomes he’s a fan of Derek’s game not because of his name on the back of the jersey, but for how he performs on the field.
“Derek is a very versatile player who can clear out a linebacker up the middle or catch passes out on the edge. He is very smart, works extremely hard and is always willing to do whatever is best for the team. He does a great job on special teams, and it has been fun to see him and Melvin (Gordon) on the same team this year and some of the things that they have been able to accomplish together.”
He then laughs, adding, “You also have to watch out for the occasional 53-yard reception.”
It’s an unfortunate fact that fullbacks often go unnoticed as their dirty work in the trenches gets overshadowed by the end result it produces. However, the revitalized Chargers ground attack wouldn’t be as effective without Watt, as the rookie has been a key factor helping Gordon author one of the top seasons for a Chargers running back through 10 games.
At the same time, as the 53-yard catch and run against the Broncos J.J. references proved, Derek has the ability to make the splashy play when called upon. After all, it was the longest reception by a fullback in Chargers history.
Watt joined the Bolts as the 198th overall pick in the sixth round out of Wisconsin. He enjoyed a solid career in Madison, rushing 13 times for 60 yards while catching 30 passes for 309 yards and one TD. The Waukesha, Wisconsin native particularly thrived blocking, as the Badgers routinely ranked among the best rushing teams in the country over his tenure, including a pair of seasons paving the way for Melvin Gordon.
However, when he was drafted, most headlines throughout the country focused on the Bolts adding J.J.’s younger brother instead of focusing on the merits of Derek’s play. It’s the same issue facing the youngest brother, T.J., who has followed in the Watt family footsteps by staring at Wisconsin.
Nonetheless, Derek has established a legacy of his own as a rookie, and J.J. couldn’t be prouder.
“This is one area where I am unbelievably proud of my brothers,” J.J. said. “It would be very easy for them to be bitter about always being labeled ‘J.J.’s brother’ or always having someone bring my name up when talking about them. But the way that they have handled themselves, the way they have embraced our brotherhood while at the same time, working to create legacies of their own, is truly special. Everything that they have accomplished, they have earned. They have worked, sacrificed and given everything that they have to put themselves in the position that they are in. Nobody should ever take that away from them. We will always be brothers and we will always be proud of each other, but they deserve full credit for their successes because they earned that.”
J.J. and Derek grew up extremely close as they are only three years apart in age. In fact, asked to share memories of his younger brother, the first thing that comes to mind is something many siblings can relate to.
“He loved chicken nuggets! One of the main things that I remember about growing up with Derek is that no matter where we went, no matter what restaurant we went to, he always ordered chicken nuggets. Every time.”
He then pauses and gets more serious.
“The other thing that I know about Derek is how service-oriented he is. He was always extremely tough and violent on the field, but off of the field he has always done an incredible job of giving back, whether it be volunteering or hospital visits, he has always gone the extra mile to give back to those in need.”
Family and football are two pillars of the Watt family. So, J.J. made sure he was able to catch Derek’s last game as a high school senior as he was on a break at Wisconsin. It turned out to have a heartbreaking ending, but was a moment that bonded the two brothers.
“It’s easy to talk about the good times and everyone expects a brotherhood to be strong in the good times, but one of my strongest memories between us was during his senior year of high school when I got a chance to be at his last game. Unfortunately, they lost in the playoffs. Anyone who’s played high school football before knows how tough that last loss to end your senior season can be. After the game, I met him out on the field and just gave him a hug. (I) told him I’d been there before and I knew the emotions that he was feeling. I kind of let him have that moment because I knew how much work he put in and how important it was to him at the time. It’s very cool to be able to share moments that we have both lived through and discuss them from a similar perspective.”
Derek arrived in Madison as a freshman the same year his older brother made his debut in the NFL as the number 11 overall pick. While their college careers never overlapped, J.J. kept close tabs on how Derek was performing. It was during this time he realized his brother was also destined for a future in the NFL.
“As his career went on at Wisconsin, it became clear that he had what it takes to make it to the next level. When he picked up the fullback position so quickly after switching from defense, I knew that the playbook would never be a problem. Then as he continued to play and grow within one of the best rushing offenses in the country, you could tell that he was beginning to develop into someone who could play in the NFL.”
What once seemed to be a pipedream to both play in the NFL is now a reality. J.J. is overcome with emotion each time he sees the kid who loved chicken nuggets make a big play and unleash a crushing block.
So what’s it like to know his younger brother is now in the NFL?
“I have tried to come up with some elegant way to put it, but to be honest, all I can say is that it is very cool. It is one of those things that was a complete fantasy as a kid. Every young football player dreams of playing in the NFL, but to be able to play in the NFL yourself, have your brother play in the NFL and have your youngest brother playing for the #7 team in the country? That’s just crazy. So it is very surreal, it is very cool and it is a testament to what hard work and dedication can accomplish.”