The NFL has an unlikely pipeline in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, home of three draft picks bearing the same last name.
But football is only part of the Watt family blueprint.
Brothers J.J., T.J. and Derek Watt have bonded over European vacations and country concerts. They've shared packed rental cars on family trips to Florida. They drive one another to improve on the field and support one another off it.
J.J. Watt, the three-time defensive player of the year, appreciated that reality on an April conference call with Pittsburgh media after T.J. was drafted by the Steelers in the first round.
"It's just a blast to watch each other have success," J.J. said.
T.J., 22, and Derek, 24 -- selected by the Los Angeles Chargers in the sixth round in 2016 -- aren't just the younger brothers of J.J., 28. They're promising NFL players in their own right. But they always have J.J.'s back, including as his fake "security team" when fans swarm the megastar on family cruises.
The Watts agreed to share a few photos of moments that helped shape them. ESPN got the story behind each one.
A goalpost and a proud grandpa
J.J. Watt came back to Pewaukee for a few days in 2011, the year he was drafted by the Houston Texans, so the family decided to take to the local field for a photo op. The brothers savor the memories from that day because of their special guest in the picture, their grandpa Jim, who died in February 2014.
T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker: "We actually took my grandpa up there when my grandpa was still alive. He was our biggest fan. He was at every single practice, every single game. We thought it would be cool to get a photo shoot with everyone in the family and grandpa in his No. 1 Pewaukee jersey to match what we had. It was just really special. We’re always so busy, we never have the time to take pictures."
Derek Watt, Los Angeles Chargers fullback: “Everyone [in town] knew who he was, and he always had on the Pirates gear. I know how much he meant to us all. There’s also a photo from that day of my mom taking a snap, and we’re in the Wing-T formation.”
*J.J. Watt, Houston Texans defensive end: "How proud [Jim] was of what my brothers and I were able to do for our family name ... that's why we go out there and try to live our life the right way and work hard and do things the way we do things: because we want to make our family proud."
T.J. Watt: “Very, very ugly mohawks.”
A very public water excursion
The Watt family loves cruises. They take one every year. This 2014 trip happened as Wisconsin basketball was playing Kentucky in the Final Four. J.J.’s star status presented a few roadblocks, but the three brothers eventually found a quiet spot to watch the game in their fresh Badgers gear (UK won 74-73). They also found time to appreciate their prospective football paths: Derek was entering the season as Wisconsin’s starting fullback, and T.J. had signed with Wisconsin a year earlier.
T.J. Watt: “We can’t do cruises anymore, because J.J.’s too dang famous. You get trapped on the boat. We had to find our secret hideouts. We always make the best of each moment. My parents have been on so many cruises that they have lounges they have access to.”
Derek Watt: “When we were younger, T.J. and I would act like we were [J.J.’s] security team. Once he’s noticed by a bunch of people, it gets crazy. He loves the fans and handles it great. Sometimes we like to eat dinner in private, but fans are usually really good about it."
Last summer, J.J. took his brothers to Europe for a 15-day excursion to Dublin, Paris, London and Rome. The goal? “See the world,” J.J. said. For three football players, checking out the Colosseum was high on the agenda.
**J.J. Watt: “We’d be awake in the middle of the night, and we’d be sleeping in the middle of the day, but we’d always find time to train. We went on a jog down the Champs-Elysees [in Paris] by the Arc de Triomphe. We did a workout in this awesome weight room in London that overlooked Big Ben. It was really cool just kind of finding these gyms and being able to experience these incredible things and see all these landmarks and sights all over the world and realize how far we’ve come but at the same time not forget why we get to do all these cool things.”
Derek Watt: “That was the highlight of the trip: learning about the gladiators and what they did in the Colosseum. I guess we called ourselves modern-day gladiators. This was their arena where they performed.”
**J.J. Watt: “I’m hoping now that [T.J.’s] been drafted, he can take me and Derek on a trip sometime.”
Always room for one more vacation
The Watts did not have an extravagant upbringing, but the family prioritized killer family vacations and weekend getaways. John Watt, a firefighter lieutenant, sometimes logged overtime hours to make sure the trips were top-shelf. In this picture, the Watts are enjoying a slow weekend at a Devil’s Lake cabin outside Madison, Wisconsin.
T.J. Watt: “Those family trips are really important. I think we will remember them forever. Our parents were extremely hard workers.”
Derek Watt: “Those trips were normal to us, but now that we’re older, we know not everyone gets those things. That’s why we’re so close as a family.”
Country music and playground games
The Watts have similar interests. Football and country music are high priorities for the three brothers. A few summers ago, J.J. blended those two worlds by taking his brothers to a Zac Brown Band concert at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. Things got weird backstage.
Derek Watt: “We played four square with the band until 3 a.m. Things got pretty intense. We really wanted to win. There was supposed to be a whiffle ball game, but the band started putting the lines out, and next thing you know, we’re playing four square.”
T.J. Watt: “J.J. is really good friends with Zac. To hang out as a group in a relaxed setting and not talk football was special. Zac Brown is always lights-out.”
Derek believes this picture took place at SeaWorld Orlando, which reminded him of driving around central Florida in an undersized rental car with luggage on his lap. The Watts were making a pit stop on the way to the coast for another cruise, which got T.J. thinking years later.
T.J. Watt: “You go to new beaches every day, and it’s a lot of fun, but it allowed us to not take things for granted. You go to all these cities and these islands and you see what people are living in and going through, and it really puts things in perspective when you get back on a billion-dollar cruise ship and eat whatever you want to eat. You’d go to these villages and bargain for a wooden sculpture, and it reminds you: This guy works for hours, and he only gets $5 for this sculpture.”
*Taken from a J.J. Watt interview on ESPN’s E:60 in 2015.
**Watt's comments were made to Pittsburgh media in an April conference call.