RENTON – This was always the plan for J.J. Watt, to be considered one of the best players in the NFL, even during those months when he was a man without a football home and delivering pizzas to pass the time.
“My whole life I’ve had expectations for myself and goals for myself that a lot of other people thought were unrealistic or didn’t think were possible,’’ Watt said Wednesday. “And that was fine by me. All I needed was myself to believe in the goals and the people who were immediately around me. That’s all that matters to me.’’
All that matters this week to Watt, a defensive end for the Houston Texans and the NFL’s reigning defensive player of the year, is trying to find a way to disrupt a Seahawks offense that ranks fourth in the NFL in scoring.
The 6-foot-5, 289-pound Watt led the NFL a year ago in sacks with 20.5, fronting a Houston defense that is among the most aggressive in the league.
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Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Wednesday the Texans will bring as much pressure as any team Seattle will face this year, estimating that Houston will rush an extra defender roughly 80 percent of the time.
Goal one, though, will be attempting to accomplish what few NFL teams have of late — containing Watt, who has three sacks this season.
It’s a challenge that could be greater for the Seahawks because of their health situation. Left tackle Russell Okung is out for up to eight weeks with a toe injury, right tackle Breno Giacomini missed practice Wednesday with a knee injury that has his status uncertain for Sunday and center Max Unger sat out Wednesday with an arm injury.
Regardless of who lines up in front of him, though, Watt often has little trouble getting to the quarterback.
“He creates a lot of issues,’’ Bevell said. “He’s definitely someone we have to account for and make sure that he doesn’t wreck the whole day for us.’’
To think that roughly five years ago, Watt was spending his days delivering pizzas, trying to figure out the best road to take to fulfill his football dreams.
He weighed roughly 210 pounds as a senior at Pewaukee (Wis.) High School and, legend has it, was told by Wisconsin coaches he wasn’t big enough to warrant a scholarship. He instead accepted an offer at Central Michigan, where he played tight end. Watt, though, wasn’t sure that position was the best fit for him and decided to leave after his freshman season, enrolling in a local junior college and working for Pizza Hut.
He said Wednesday, “It was a good job. Nothing really wrong with it.” He decided during that time, however, that his heart was at Wisconsin, so he decided to walk on, where among the other walk-ons was Chris Maragos, now a backup free safety for the Seahawks.
Maragos remembers Watt working on the scout team and having his way with the starting offensive line.
“He was just kind of a late bloomer,’’ Maragos said. “He just needed to get used to his body type and fill out a little bit, and when he did he had the athleticism. And then when he got as big as he did and being that athletic, it’s a huge mismatch.’’
He progressed so quickly that after two years playing at Wisconsin he left early for the NFL, taken No. 11 overall in 2011.
After a solid rookie season, he broke out last year with one of the greatest seasons in recent memory for a defensive lineman, which included 39 tackles-for-loss and 16 passes batted down.
Along the way, he’s become the face of the Texans’ franchise, a role he said he gladly embraces, even if it means getting recognized everywhere he goes.
“Obviously there are some things I can’t do anymore,’’ he said. “But I have no qualms about it whatsoever. This is the stuff you dream about as a kid.’’
Maragos, who was also a transfer at Wisconsin, said Watt’s the same person he was on the day they each found out they had been awarded scholarships. The two still work out together in the summers in Wisconsin.
Asked how he’d defend Watt, Maragos laughed.
“I tell you what, that’s tough,’’ he said. “The thing about him is he creates such a mismatch because he’s so long, he’s tall, he’s explosive, he’s quick.
“Usually you get a small-edge rusher who doesn’t have as much arm strength so you can really sit on him and absorb his bull rush or a guy who is real big and strong but he doesn’t quite have the quickness. But he’s got both. … The guy is the total package, man.’’
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @bcondotta