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The brotherhood of football


October 2012

Connie Watt with her sons T.J. (left), J.J. and Derek
Photo by TM Photography of Pewaukee

Connie Watt was the youngest of five girls in her family ó and she knew what she wanted when she was starting her own. "I prayed when I was pregnant that I would have boys, and thatís what I got," she says. Not only did Connie and John Watt of Pewaukee have three sons, theyíre all superb athletes. Today, their oldest son, J.J., is a defensive end for the Houston Texans, Derek is a fullback for the Badgers and T.J. is quarterback at Pewaukee High School. T.J. has been recruited by the Badgers for 2013, and will be playing tight end next season.

The Watts saw the potential in their boys at a young age and their love for sports, especially football. "They take to all sports. They are all natural athletes," says Watt.

The kids started out playing select hockey. Because the boys played on separate teams, the family never traveled together, so they turned in their skates for the gridiron. "It was a natural progression; they all excelled in it," she says.

But football season wasnít enough for these avid athletes. When they werenít playing football, the boys were involved in track and baseball. During high school, J.J. was recruited for both baseball and football scholarships. But football was his true love, says Watt.

Connie and John could see the possibility of their sons playing beyond high school, but knew they would need additional training to reach the level it takes to move on. They began training at Next Level in Waukesha, a training facility for athletes to get in condition to tryout for the professionals.

The couple was also aware it takes much more than drills at a training facility to exceed: It takes a commitment from the entire family. The Watts were firm believers in eating healthy, home-cooked meals and plenty of sleep.

Healthy food is always on the table, despite both parents working ≠ó John is a Pewaukee firefighter and Connie is director and vice president at Independent Inspections Ltd. Inc. in Waukesha and director of the Justin J. Watt Foundation, which helps children participate in after-school athletic programs in Wisconsin and Houston.

But an abundance of home-cooked meals is just one factor when it comes to raising a family of elite athletes. The college recruiting process was taxing and the NCAA has strict guidelines in order to qualify. Both J.J. and Derek were recruited by at least 18 schools. "Itís incredibly stressful," says Watt.

J.J. started his college career at Central Michigan, but transferred to UW-Madison where he always wanted to play. He took the gamble and was a walk-on for the team. He missed the original tryouts due to mononucleosis. "I told him his whole life that itís character building," she says.

Derek followed in his brotherís footsteps and is a sophomore this year, playing at Camp Randall Stadium. His brother, T.J., will join him next year.

When the weekend rolls around in the fall, Connie and John hit the road. Friday nights are dedicated to watching T.J. play for the Pewaukee Pirates. "We would never miss a high school game," she says ó no matter if the team is at home or away.

Saturday morning, they trade in their red and black for red and white to head to the Badger game. They plan on attending most of Derekís games this year.

Last year they were in the stands for most of J.J.ís Houston Texan games, but logistically will not be able to make them all this season. "It was nothing for us to get in the car and drive through the night to get to J.J.ís games," she says.

J.J. understands the logistical nightmare and that itís important for them to be at the Badger games this year, where Derek will be a starter, she says.

Just like football players, the Watts do have their traditions. "We always get there early enough to watch them warm up," says John Watt. "Connie always goes down and gives them a hug on the sidelines before the game."

One thing Connie Watt has also learned over the years is to stock up on hand and foot warmers. Placing the warmers on your neck is a tip she shares with fellow football parents.

"Football season is really exhausting, but itís a good time to be busy," she says. Neither her or John would have it any other way.


This story ran in the October 2012 issue of: