The Watt family’s 2020 Thanksgiving will be different, but not for the reasons you’d think. And that was before the rescheduling
All three Watt brothers — J.J., Derek and T.J. — were supposed to be playing in NFL games on Thanksgiving Day. J.J.’s Texans take on the Lions in Detroit, but Derek and T.J. both play for the Steelers, whose game against the Ravens has been shifted from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon. It should’ve been a fitting national stage for the trio, who played on the same field earlier this season when Pittsburgh beat Houston.
When they’ve been asked about their family upbringing in the past, each of the Watt brothers gives credit to their parents and extended family, along with giving praise to each other. The famous proverb, “it takes a village,” certainly applies here. In this case, three members of the village made the NFL.
“I think it came down to our parents working extremely hard for what they got in life and teaching us that if we want to accomplish our dreams and our goals, we had to work extremely hard and make a lot of sacrifices,” J.J. said earlier this season, according to NFL.com. “Which at the time we hated but now we understand and we appreciate it.”
The Watt family
Grandfather Jim Watt
Jim Watt stood on the top row of the bleachers at high school games, just in front of the press box so that the Watt brothers could spot him. He would’ve been hard to miss as one of the loudest people there, according to Madison.com.
J.J. has said that his grandfather provided his greatest inspiration. Jim died in February of 2014, and according to ESPN, Watt had a message for him on his final day.
“When I was holding his hand,” J.J. said, “I told him, ‘We’re going to make your name proud.'”
Parents John and Connie Watt
John was a long-time firefighter, and he also coached the Watt brothers in football growing up. He told the New York Times, “My saying has always been, ‘I don’t expect you to be perfect, but I always expect you to try to be perfect.'”
When the Watt brothers were growing up, Connie was the vice president of a building inspection company. She’s now the vice president of the J.J. Watt Foundation.
How many Watt brothers are there?
There are three Watt brothers. All three were standouts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before playing in the NFL.
J.J.’s story has been told many times. He went to Central Michigan as a tight end, but he then chose to bet on himself and walk-on at Wisconsin. There, he worked his way to stardom before being taken 11th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
J.J. won the AP’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2012, 2014 and 2015, and he’s been an All-Pro five times. Staying healthy has been a bit of an issue for Watt in the latter half of his career, but at his peak, he was the best defensive player in the NFL, and he’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
Derek, the middle brother and a fullback, is the least-known of the Watt brothers due to his role on the field. He only carried the ball 13 times at Wisconsin, serving a pro-style fullback role just as he does in the NFL.
In the 2016 NFL Draft, Derek was a sixth-round pick by the Chargers. He spent four seasons there before joining the Steelers (and brother T.J.) ahead of the 2020 NFL season. Derek has scored one touchdown as a professional, a rushing score for the L.A. Chargers in 2019. He didn’t miss a game in his four years with the Chargers.
The baby brother, T.J., is a part of the NFL’s next generation of fearsome pass rushers. The Steelers took him with the 30th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and he recorded 7.0 sacks as a rookie. That increased to 10.0 and 13.0 sacks the next two seasons, respectively.
T.J. led the NFL with eight forced fumbles during the 2019 season, a campaign which earned him First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors. The Steelers exercised T.J.’s fifth-year option for 2021, but after that season, he could be looking at a major payday much like J.J. signed in 2014 (that was a six-year, $100-million extension).
“For me it was super important in my development to play with J.J. and Derek to get beat up on a lot when I was younger,” T.J. told the Associated Press earlier in 2020. “But (it taught me to) just kind of be resilient and continue to grow and learn from my experiences playing up with those guys.”