As you might recall, J.J. Watt was kind enough to chat with UprootedTexan last July, thanks to and in connection with Gatorade's "Beat the Heat" campaign. UT did a fantastic job. So fantastic, in fact, that Gatorade approached us again a few days ago to give us another opportunity to talk with Mr. Watt.
Unfortunately for J.J. and Gatorade, UT was not available, so I had to step in. J.J. and I chatted yesterday afternoon. My inelegant questions and his excellent responses are after the jump.
After we exchanged pleasantries (and no, I didn't get weepy until after I hung up the phone), here's how it went. According to my garbled notes, anyway.
J.J., we’re doing this interview thanks to Gatorade’s “Beat the Heat” program. Can you tell us a little bit about what the program does?
A: "Beat the Heat" is about educating athletes about the need for them to hydrate. It's especially important in Houston because of the weather we have here during the summer. We want athletes to understand the importance of hydrating. It's really important to stay hydrated at all times, especially before, during, and after being outside. We want to make sure that athletes know about the dangers of not hydrating, so they can have plenty of Gatorade or water to fuel them and avoid problems with the heat.
Houston’s not exactly known for its mild summers. How do you and your teammates deal with the heat during training camp?
A: Lot of Gatorade. Lot of water. We weigh ourselves before every practice, and then we weigh ourselves after every practice. We compare the numbers to make sure that we're doing what we need to do to replenish our bodies after practice. Every pound lost is worth twenty ounces of Gatorade or water. So if we lose a pound, we make sure to have twenty ounces of Gatorade or water after practice to replenish after practices.
Really? Every pound lost is worth twenty ounces of Gatorade or water?
A: Yeah. One pound equals twenty ounces of fluid when it comes to that.
Watch this smooth transition...speaking of training camp, how’s that elbow doing, J.J.?
A: The elbow’s good. We're lucky that we have a heck of a training staff. The training room doesn’t really open until 6 a.m., but the trainers get there at 5:15 to work on me. I can't say enough about the Texans training staff. They work with me all day, every day. I’m getting to the facility at 5:15 in the morning and not leaving until 9 or 9:15 at night, and the trainers are there with me the entire time. It's really an amazing staff.
What kind of rehab do they have you doing right now?
A: Well, we're getting the swelling out. We're strengthening the muscles around the elbow. Working on getting full range of motion back.
A: No, not yet. I wouldn't go that far yet. There's a chance I'll play at some point during the preseason, but no guarantee. I'm definitely not ruling it out yet.
Have the trainers given you any idea when you’ll be medically cleared to return to practice without any limitations?
A: No idea. I haven't been given any kind of timetable yet.
As good as you were as a rookie, I’m guessing you think there are things you can still improve upon. What did you work on over the offseason?
A: I worked on getting bigger, faster, stronger . Watched a lot of pass rush film. I also worked on setting up pass rush moves better; that was probably the biggest thing. I like to be able to mess with offensive linemen's heads a little bit. I watched a ton of film, both of me and of every sack in the NFL from the past season. Also watched some film of guys from other seasons, not just last season.
What player's film did you watch the most?
A: Probably Howie Long. I'm a big Howie Long fan.
Who would you say was the toughest opponent–team or specific player–you faced during your rookie year?
A: Hmmmmm....I'd say the Saints, because of their offensive line. They're a good group. I liked playing against those guys. They're a good challenge.
Now that you’ve been in Houston for a year, you’ve had some time to settle in and get accustomed to the city. What’s your favorite part of living and working here?
A: The people. Everyone has been so great. I love the fans. Everybody has been so nice to me. They come up to me, at the grocery store or wherever, and they thank me, and they tell me how much they love the Texans. This city loves their team, and it's awesome. I appreciate the love. The people and the fans of Houston have been so good to me, and I really appreciate that.
I was fortunate enough to be at Reliant for the first playoff win in Texans’ history last January. First and foremost, thanks for that pick-six. That’s a moment Texans fans won’t ever forget. I watched the entire play, and I didn’t even realize you had the ball for the first ten yards or so of your return. Can you tell us a little bit about the play and what you heard on the field after you scored?
A: That was the loudest I've ever heard a stadium. It was a really fun play. On the play before, I tried to run down Andy Dalton and didn't get to him. I was tired. So on the next play, my initial move didn’t work. I tried another move. I saw Dalton start to throw, and I just put my hands up. That’s something we work on at practice, so I just did it. I felt the ball hit my hands, and then my instincts took over. I just pulled it in, started running, and tried not to fall down. I got in the end zone, and I just remember how loud it was.
Let’s circle back to beating the heat. Heat-related injuries and illnesses have become a much more public issue since the death of Korey Stringer in 2001. I know you were just a kid back then, but what changes have you noticed in how teams handle the heat in practice over the years?
A: Yeah, that's the event everyone looks to and remembers. I know it focused me on the problem. My biggest message to kids: Don’t be that kid who says "I don’t need water, I don’t need Gatorade." Don’t tough it out. Don’t say you don’t need water or Gatorade. Make sure you get hydrated and fueled. You have to keep hydrated, especially in this heat.
What tips would you give athletes of all ages about how to respond to the heat, whether it’s nutritional or conditioning-based?
A: Be very proactive. Hydrate early and often. I make sure to hydrate all summer, and then that last week before camp starts, I really ramp it up. I make sure to really ramp up how much I hydrate right before camp. Every day, before, during, and after practice, you have to make sure that you're giving your body the fuel it needs.
Last question, J.J.–what did you learn from the veterans on the defensive line last year–Antonio Smith, Shaun Cody, and the like?
A: How to be a pro, tips of how to handle the day-to-day of being in the NFL. I learned a lot about pass rush skills and technique from Antonio. Cody helped me with technique in run game. Both of those guys did so much for me, and now I'm trying to pass it on to the guys behind me.
What are you trying to pass on to this year’s rookies, guys like Jared Crick?
A: On the field, I'm just trying to show those guys little tips. Little keys. Off the field, how to be a pro. How to handle fans and how to handle life off the field.
Thanks for the time, J.J. Best of luck this year.
Thanks, man. Have a good one.
My sincere gratitude to Gatorade and J.J. Watt for taking the time to put up with my questions. I really enjoyed it, and I hope you guys found the exchange informative.