MADISON – The tears from Head Coach Bret Bielema during the week and the tears from J.J. Watt after losing a heartbreaking Rose Bowl told the whole story.
That game meant more to both of them and on Thursday those suspicions were confirmed.
The 2010 Lott Impact Award winner and a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, Watt, the former tight end transfer from Central Michigan, turned walk on, turned team leader on the defensive line, announced he will forgo his final season of eligibility at UW and enter the NFL Draft.
“This has, without a doubt, been one of the most difficult decisions of my life, and it is one that was not reached quickly, or easily,” Watt said in an open letter to UW fans. “It has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember to play in the National Football League, and through hard work and dedication, that dream finally has a chance to become a reality.”
Watt finished the season with 62 tackles, seven sacks, eight passes broken up, 10 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, two recoveries and three blocked kicks. He earned second-team All-America honors after leading the Badgers and ranking third in the country with 21.0 tackles for loss this season.
In the letter, Watt thanked Bielema, the entire coaching staff for getting the opportunity to succeed on and off the field and a fan base that welcomed him with open arms.
“I will be a Wisconsin Badger for life and am forever grateful for all of the love and support that the fans, administration and community have shown to my family and I during my time in Madison,” Watt said. “I could not have asked for better coaches to play for, better teammates to play alongside, or a better fan base to represent throughout my collegiate career.”
After so many high notes, Watt unfortunately finished his career on a low note. He was quiet in the Rose Bowl, finishing with three total tackles and pass breakup, but he did draw two false start penalties and a declined holding penalty when he flushed quarterback Andy Dalton out of the pocket.
Watt is projected by many NFL Draft scouting services to be a first or second-round pick.
“I talked with multiple people connected with NFL teams on J.J.’s behalf to make sure he had the best information to make an informed decision and one that he was comfortable with,” Bielema said in a statement. “He is a terrific example of what we want our student-athletes to be, both on and off the field, and he will be missed. I wish him nothing but the best and I know he will be successful in his future endeavors.”
Along with Watt, Wisconsin will have to replace senior linebackers Blake Sorensen and Culmer St. Jean, cornerback Niles Brinkley and safety Jay Valai.