With the 30th selection of the first round Thursday, the Pittsburgh Steelers made TJ Watt the fourth alumnus in Pewaukee High School history to hear his name called in the NFL draft. Watt, the youngest of three siblings to work his way into the NFL, became the third PHS player selected in the opening round.
The Steelers were led in sacks last season by 38-year-old James Harrison with five, and although Harrison returns, it had become clear the Steelers needed some younger options rushing the quarterback, a need Watt fills nicely.
Watt joins older brothers JJ (11th pick by Houston Texans in 2011) and Derek (198th pick by San Diego Chargers in 2016) in the league. JJ, of course, has built a stellar career at defensive end and has become just the second player in NFL history to win three Defensive Player of the Year awards, matching the feat of Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor. Derek, a fullback, saw action in all 16 games for the Chargers in his rookie season.
All three starred at the University of Wisconsin, as did the first-ever Pewaukee draftee, Chris McIntosh. The offensive lineman was selected with the 22nd overall selection by the Seattle Seahawks in 2000 and is currently associate athletic director at the University of Wisconsin.
Houston and Pittsburgh will face off with each other in the 2017 season on Christmas Day, a matchup that's sure to draw national attention.
"It'll be weird to be on the same field as J.J. in shoulder pads," TJ Watt said in a conference call with reporters. "I was just thinking about that. I've played with him in the back yard a bunch, I've seen him play a bunch but we've never been on the same field in full uniforms competitively before. I think that will be really cool and a weird day for me."
In his breakout junior season with the Badgers, TJ Watt (6-4, 252 pounds) racked up 63 tackles, including 11.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. He was named second-team All American by the Associated Press and first-team All Big Ten. He batted and corralled a ball at the line of scrimmage for an interception against Purdue and returned it for a touchdown.
"People don't know the little things, the work ethic, the countless hours of film study ... treating myself like a professional athlete while I was still in college," TJ said when asked about differentiating himself from JJ. "I've learned so much from JJ and been able to translate that to myself. I don't think people really even know who I am at this point just because I've been in such a big shadow. That's why I can't wait to get to Pittsburgh and become my own person."
TJ and his oldest brother have numerous similarities. Both headed to college as tight ends before changing positions, and both were considered elite pass rushers when they left the Badgers after their junior years. Whereas JJ first attended Central Michigan and transferred to Wisconsin as a walk-on, TJ started at UW but was beset by knee injuries that limited his production in his first two years.
Most everyone agrees the best is yet to come from TJ.
"That's my selling point," he said. "I was a first or second-team All American on 18 months of playing defense. I truly am scratching the surface on what I can do."
The Green Bay Packers held the 29th pick of the first round, one pick before Watt's selection, but traded that slot to the Cleveland Browns for the first pick of the second round and a fourth-round choice.
"I'm ecstatic to be a Pittsburgh Steeler," Watt said. "It's still crazy to say. I saw the Packers trade back and I knew right away there was a really good possibility I would end up in Pittsburgh.
"I knew schematically, it was a great fit for me, and that's why I was intrigued by them so much. I had dinner with them right before my pro day and worked out with them on pro day, as well."
The sons of John and Connie Watt join a small handful of famous football families to place three brothers in the NFL, notably the Matthews (Green Bay's Clay III, as well as Kevin, Casey, Jake and Mike) and the Gronkowski (Rob, Dan, Chris and Glenn) families.
The New Orleans Saints drafted Watt's Wisconsin teammate, offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk, with the 32nd and final pick of the first round.
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With Pewaukee's TJ Watt selected April 27, three Waukesha County products have been selected in the past two NFL drafts. A look at other choices from the county:
2017 — TJ Watt, Pewaukee, Round 1 (Pittsburgh Steelers)
2016 — Joe Schobert, Waukesha West, Round 4 (Cleveland Browns)
2016 — Derek Watt, Pewaukee, Round 6 (San Diego Chargers)
2012 — Brad Nortman, Brookfield Central, Round 6 (Carolina Panthers)
2011 — JJ Watt, Pewaukee, Round 1 (Houston Texans)
2008 — Nick Hayden, Arrowhead, Round 6 (Carolina Panthers)
2007 — Joe Thomas, Brookfield Central, Round 1 (Cleveland Browns)
2000 — Chris McIntosh, Pewaukee, Round 1 (Seattle Seahawks)
1994 —Joe Panos, Brookfield East, Round 3 (Philadelphia Eagles)
1989 — Kurt Larson, Waukesha North, Round 8 (Indianapolis Colts)
1988 — Glenn Derby, Oconomowoc, Round 8 (New Orleans Saints)
1985 — Jim Herrmann, Arrowhead, Round 7 (Dallas Cowboys)
1984 — John Kaiser, Arrowhead, Round 6 (Seattle Seahawks)
1978 — John Anderson, Waukesha South, Round 1 (Green Bay Packers)
1976 —Steve Wagner, Oconomowoc, Round 5 (Minnesota Vikings)
1937 — John Golemgeske, Waukesha South, Round 6 (Brooklyn Dodgers)