J.J. Watt was a pizza deliveryman as recently as 2008, when he was ringing doorbells in between his time playing at Central Michigan and Wisconsin. Today, he's a face of one of the nation's largest pizza chains.
The Houston Texans defensive end has signed on to market Papa John's, the official pizza of the NFL, along with Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who's been a spokesman for the chain since 2012.
"Having been in the pizza world before, I really appreciate what Papa John's is doing with their ingredients," Watt said.
Watt admits he doesn't frequently eat pizza as part of his daily 9,000-or-so-calorie diet -- which can consist of 12 eggs and eight pieces of chicken breast -- but said he loves it when it's time for a cheat meal.
"We had the offensive player of the year and now we have the defensive player of the year," said John Schnatter, founder and chief executive of Papa John's. "But as good as Peyton and J.J. are on the field, they're better people off of it."
Watt was part of a promotion with the Papa John's in the Houston area last year. Ten percent of the proceeds from every pizza sold in the area on Tuesdays during the season went to Watt's foundation. The $400,000 raised was beyond expectations, thanks to a promotion in which a lucky fan each week would either have a pizza delivered by Watt or have a pizza party with him.
Watt said he had a motivating moment on the job the first day he walked in to deliver pizzas in Wisconsin. When a fellow employee asked what his story was, Watt, then a walk-on, explained that he was going to play football at Wisconsin.
"He told me I was too small to play for the Badgers," Watt said. He changed positions, from tight end to defensive end, played two seasons with the Badgers and then left for the NFL after his junior year, becoming the 11th overall draft pick in 2011.
It has been a busy time for Watt, who shot commercials for Reebok and Gatorade in the offseason and recently signed on to be a spokesman for American Family Insurance.
"I really enjoyed it this offseason," Watt said. "I learned to manage my time a lot better than in previous years, to do this type of work and still take care of my body."
Schnatter said Manning, who not only became an endorser but also the owner of 21 Papa John's franchises in the Denver area when he joined them in 2012, now has 27 stores and expects to have 30 by year's end.
Said Schnatter: "When Peyton came in we were losing money in the area, and now the business has doubled."
Watt said he doesn't have plans initially to acquire stores, but that could come in time.