J.J. Watt returns home to Pewaukee for annual run-walk to benefit kids

CREATED Jun. 24, 2013

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PEWAUKEE - He is the biggest thing going in the Lone Star State, but he's all Wisconsin. And while J.J. Watt may wear cowboy boots and 10-gallon Stetson's to look the part in America's fourth-largest city, inside he's still just a big kid from Pewaukee.

Watt, in just two years, has unquestionably become the most popular athlete in Houston, and arguably the entire state of Texas, wowing football fans with his defensive prowess. But, moreover winning fans' hearts by opening up his.

This past weekend, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year was back home, hosting his third annual run-walk to benefit his foundation to fund after-school programs here and in Texas. But that's the public face of Justin James Watt, simply known as J.J. since birth.

What you might not know is that he's been working to put smiles on kids faces as long as anyone can remember.

"Teachers would send us e-mails," Connie Watt, J.J.'s mother, recalls."Just so you know, when the kids were in gym class, he was taking the special needs kids could do the drills."

Watt has seen his popularity explode over the last four years, but especially the last two in Houston, and it's easy to see why when you hear of stories like the Berry kids of Houston. Less than two weeks after an horrific car accident killed their parents and left 8-year-old Aaron and his 9-year-old brother, Peter, paralyzed, then-rookie J.J. Watt entered their lives when he walked into their hospital room.

He hasn't left their lives since, visiting the boys and their 7-year-old sister, Willa, every chance he gets; playing cards, wheelchair basketball, and even taking the kids to a Justin Bieber concert.

Or when he visited cancer-stricken 12-year-old Cristian Beasley of Splendora, Texas. Cristian goes to school using a robot he named Watt.

"It's the best," Watt says. "it's so crazy to hear that a handshake or a smile or a hello can put such a bright spot on somebody's day. For me, that would be such a terrible thing to waste. "

Like the time he heard about Nathan Poe and his soon-to-be-wife, Stephanie, that were such fans of his they ordered a J.J. Watt life-size cake for their wedding. Watt had the Texans PR staff track down the Poe's address so he could send them a wedding present, then delivered it personally to their door.

"It comes from my parents," Watt says of his penchant for going the extra mile for his fans. "They always taught me to give back. it comes from me being very fortunate growing up. Especially now, they happen to pay me a lot of money to play football and I want to give some of that money back and I want to show that no matter who you are and no matter what your status is, it's always about helping other people."

J.J. Watt's NFL legacy is of course still being written. But he is showing right now that that will only be a very small part of J.J. Watt's legacy as a man, as he helps do for tomorrow's leaders what they themselves may need a little help in doing themselves. But lest he starts getting a big head about things, there is always mom to keep him straight.

"Oh, when he's home," Connie Watt says with a chuckle. "He's still emptying the dishwasher!"