x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Houston's JJ Watt delivers on his promise

The talented defensive player has swapped tossing pizzas to catching passes for the Texans.

Houston Texans 's JJ Watt has 10-and-a-half quarterback sacks so far this season. Scott Halleran / Getty Images
Houston Texans 's JJ Watt has 10-and-a-half quarterback sacks so far this season. Scott Halleran / Getty Images

He has the best pair of hands in the league.

Such flattery has long been confined to wide receivers and tight ends. No more. Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt, the runaway pacesetter for Defensive Player of the Year, uses his massive mitts to redirect passes, often harmlessly to the turf.

Equally impressive as Watt's 10-and-a-half quarterback sacks, the most in the NFL, is his 10 passes deflected, four more than the next most productive lineman. Knock-downs serve as a deterrent, forcing a QB to re-evaluate his throwing arc.

For Watt, it has given birth to an obvious nickname: JJ Swat.

"It's something I've practised for a long time," Mr Swat told the Chicago Sun-Times. "My goal every play is to have an impact. I understand I can't get a sack on every play. But if I can't do that, then my goal is to try and knock the ball down."

Watt's statistics seem all the more remarkable in light of the Texans deploying a compact three-man line, not the more common four-man front. Watt often draws extra attention from blockers, especially when he lines up near the ball. Pass rushers prefer to attack from the outside, allowing them more room to manoeuvre.

Taking a long, twisting route to his destination is hardly new for Watt.

The skinny teen was a bench-sitting quarterback in high school, then bulked up enough to become a tight end. He played one anonymous season on defence at a mid-level university, then divided the next year between intense conditioning and working as a pizza deliverer.

On one call, a boy was excited to recognise Watt, pie in hand, from his heretofore modest football career. The youngster then asked puzzlingly, "Mum, why does JJ Watt have my pizza?"

Watts remembers the moment as humbling but not discouraging. From it, he found extra motivation in the weight room and joined the upper-crust university team at Wisconsin but as a walk-on, which meant there was no commitment to keep him.

By now, Watt was approaching 300 pounds, with a motor that powered his extra-large frame at prime speed. Improvement came at an astonishing rate.

Quoting his parents' advice just after the joined the league last year, Watts said, "If you are going to do something, do it one hundred per cent."

"That," he added, "is what I've tried to do on the football field."

Further incentive stems from boos directed at the Texans by fans upset at a No 1 draft pick spent on Watt. He saved the video for occasional viewing.

Being a latecomer to his position, Watt has considerable room to grow, making for a blindingly bright future. Much brighter, apparently, than had he stayed in the food delivery business. Once on duty, when his vehicle became stuck after sliding down a snowbank, Watt could not resist. He ate the customer's pizza and wings.


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