Badger teammate reflects on J.J. Watt’s retirement

MADISON, Wis. — J.J. Watt announced Tuesday that he’s retiring from football at the end of the year. One of the greatest Badgers ever had a long road to the top. After his freshman year of college, he gave up a scholarship at Central Michigan to walk on at the University of Wisconsin in his home state.

“I think he worked for Pizza Hut or Papa John’s delivering pizzas just to pay for his first semester,” said Brendan Kelly, who played on the defensive line with Watt at Wisconsin.

Kelly says with the weight of Pewaukee on his shoulders, nothing was stopping Watt.

“It’s not just a coincidence that the Badgers ended up going to three Rose Bowls, having a lot of successful years, winning Big Ten titles, and stuff like that,” Kelly said.

Some might get a big ego as they burst onto the scene as one of the nation’s best players. Not Watt.

“He wasn’t just trying to make this all about me; he was a true teammate, he wanted what was best for the team, and a lot of the time what was best for the team was J.J. doing what J.J. does because he’s a playmaker and a phenomenal athlete,” said Kelly.

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He raised the bar for Wisconsin football. That passion, Kelly said, multiplied in the locker room and has exponential impacts on the program to this day.

“J.J. is the absolute epitome of a guy that was overlooked in high school, went to a smaller D-1 college, walked on because he wanted to follow a dream, earned a scholarship, and went in to essentially be an all-Big Ten all-American who gets drafted in the first round,” Kelly said. “I think that’s really what Wisconsin is about; look at Milwaukee, Appleton, Green Bay; these are hardworking towns with a lot of people who are just blue-collar and gritty, and J.J. is the absolute epitome of a guy who was overlooked in high school, went to a smaller college, and walked on because he followed a dream.”

The three-time NFL defensive player of the year will go down as one of the best Badgers ever, and he did it the Wisconsin way.

“You look at a guy like that and you’re like, yeah, that sums up what it means to be a Wisconsin guy,” Kelly said.