The incoming rookie class is in a very, very difficult spot in treading such uncertain waters as they chase a dream of playing professional football. For the elite among them, one of the tough decisions to make is coming right now -- whether or not to attend the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall.
Twenty players have been invited and some have already accepted, though that RSVP isn't exactly binding. Others, like Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, are still deliberating. The subject is one, for now, that Watt has been talking over with his agents at CAA and fellow rookies he's become friends with, like fellow "undecided" attendee Blaine Gabbert.
"We're trying to figure out what the best situation is for everyone," Watt said Wednesday, via phone. "You obviously don't want to upset the vets, so we're going to carefully take everything into account with this situation. I don't have a timeframe to make a decision, but I'm hoping for one quickly."
Watt's story is well-documented, and pretty interesting. He went from an accomplished, scholarship tight end at Central Michigan to a walk-on at Wisconsin with the idea of chasing this dream. In between the two, he worked at Pizza Hut to prepare to fund his education, attended classes at UW-Waukesha, and gained 15-20 pounds in muscle to reach 260 in order to ready himself for Madison.
That helped pave the way for a switch to the defensive side, something that he not only envisioned all along but also happened when coach Bret Bielema saw his relentlessness as a member of the scout team. Part of Watt's thinking was, "I'm never going to a 4.5 40 guy," and that he was more suited athletically to make it to the pros as defensive lineman. The other factor for Watt was "the ability to create my own destiny on every play."
Safe to say, it's worked out. Once fighting to make a name for himself, Watt's now a blue-chipper.
"More people might recognize me, I might be a more known name, but I'm no different," said Watt. "I'm going with the same intensity, the same attitude."
As such, after prepping for the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day at API in Arizona, he's back at home in Pewaukee, Wis., and working out at the same gym, NX Level, that he has trained at since his sophomore year in high school. The familiar location is among those he's considering using to train post-draft (he could also return to API) if the lockout is still ongoing.
Watt admits that it's a little frustrating not knowing exactly what's ahead in the face of the labor strife, and he's also conflicted when it comes to the decision on attending the draft. But he does know that the endgame for all this is a dream coming true, which is what he's focusing on.
"I'd be lying if I said walking across that stage wasn't something I dreamt about as a kid, or even for the last 10 years," Watt said. "But the thing I dream about more is playing in the NFL. It's a big dream to walk that stage. It's a bigger dream to play in the games. And I understand where the players are coming from, and it's our dream, so it's a tough situation for us rookies. But as long as I'm playing in the end, I'll be happy."