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During J.J. Watt's whirlwind offseason, training remained paramount

HOUSTON -- A hockey rink piqued his interest, naturally.

Before J.J. Watt was a football player, he was a talented hockey player, a kid who went to play in Canada with his traveling team. Back then, he visited the Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, and stood in awe of the players who won that trophy.

"I would never touch the Cup because you don’t touch it till you win it," Watt told me this week.

So when Watt found himself in Toronto on Friday, a Reebok commercial this time, he asked the company to find him a gym for a workout before the eight-hour shoot. In a high school gym, tucked into a high school hockey rink, Watt worked out beneath a banner that declared "Simple things done savagely well."

"That was just a no brainer," Watt said. "... To think about those days and to think about how cool I thought it was, professional athletes , and then to go into this gym and look at their wall ... and to go into this tiny little dungeon of a weight room and work out there at 4:30 in the morning, it was a really cool day."

It was the start of one of many such he has had since his profile rocketed.

"It’s been a fun offseason," Watt mused. He smiled as he considered which day provided the craziest set of scheduling challenges.

Scheduling become more of an issue for Watt lately as the demands on his time have grown. Two defensive player of the year awards and 13 MVP votes were the direct rewards for his transcendent 2014 season, in which he had 20.5 sacks, 10 passes defensed (including an 80-yard pick six), five fumble recoveries and three touchdown catches in his stints on offense. The indirect reward came in magazine photo shoots, an appearance on the sitcom "New Girl," a guest appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!", awards shows, commercial shoots and a high-profile visit to the NCAA men's basketball championship game (with Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki), where he saw his Wisconsin Badgers play.

Through it all, he prioritized workouts.

"Training is always No. 1, whether that means waking up in Toronto at 3 a.m. to work out before filming a commercial or whatever it is, I’ll never miss a day of training to do anything," Watt said.

He trained the mornings before the talk show and sitcom appearance. He trained at Arizona State during the Pro Bowl, and before being honored as the league's best defensive player. Friday was the freshest, though.

He did wake up at 3 a.m. in Toronto, but to stop by Canadian fast food chain Tim Hortons for a meal before his workout began just after 4:30 a.m. It had to be that early to fit with a shooting schedule for the commercial, which was to last from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

From there, he hopped on a jet that returned him to Houston in preparation for a charity event and, two days later, the start of the Texans' offseason conditioning program.

"It was one of those days I looked around and it was the perfect embodiment of kind of everything I’m about," Watt said. "Just in a little tiny weight room, lifting, and then also being able to shoot a commercial, it’s unbelievable where I’ve come from since I was a kid."