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Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Can J.J. Watt top last season?

By Tania Ganguli

J.J. Watt smiled and shook his head.

He didn't want to go there at first.

I wanted to know if there was anything the reigning defensive player of the year had ever tried to accomplish and failed.

JJ Watt
J.J. Watt isn't interested in setting goals that are easily attainable.
Soccer? Nope. Fishing? “I can fish.”  Cooking? He’s a decent cook, even better on the grill, he says. Fixing cars? He’s never tried.

Golf? Golf.

“I’ve never taken lessons, which is probably why I suck,” Watt said. “I’m very stubborn. I want to do it myself. I feel like if I play enough I’ll learn. It hasn’t happened yet.”

His celebrity status means being asked to partake in charity golf tournaments fairly regularly. Watt participates, just not well. Right now, his goal is to shoot a 99 (same as his jersey number). When he went to Ireland this offseason, he refused to play golf because he didn’t want to disgrace their courses.

Yup, golf is about it off the football field for the Texans’ defensive end -- an especially remarkable feat for someone who doesn’t set easy goals for himself.

Last year Watt openly talked about his goal of leading the league in sacks at the end of the season. This year he’s talked about wanting to have 20 sacks, 20 additional tackles for loss and 20 batted passes. He likes to aim high toward things that might seem unattainable to others. He likes to do things that are unattainable to others.

Setting high goals means risking not reaching them sometimes. And to Watt, that’s OK.

“Nobody sets the bar low and loves jumping over it,” Watt said. “I mean, I’m trying to strive for a high bar. There’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t embrace high expectations. What am I going to do, be scared of them? I have no interest in being scared. I have no interest in mediocrity, I have no interest in average, I have no interest in being an OK player. I want to be great. I want to be the best.”

Watt’s goal for sacks is higher this year than last year, too. Accomplishing that would mean doing something rare.

The trend for sack leaders is that most stay in the double digits the following year, but their numbers reduce.

In the past 10 years only one sack leader has increased his number of sacks the following year: DeMarcus Ware. He led the league with 15.5 sacks in 2010. In 2011 he had 19 sacks, but Jared Allen topped him with 22 -- half a sack short of the all-time record.

Of the group, Watt is the second-youngest -- Shawne Merriman was only 22 -- which means his strength and ability shouldn’t be close to peaking.

Can Watt elude the trend?

It wouldn't be the first time. Most recently, last season he altered the parameters of what people expect from 3-4 defensive ends.

That same stubborn determination that keeps him from taking golf lessons is what keeps him from ever admitting defeat on the field. It’s why he gets so many batted passes -- if he can’t get to the quarterback, he finds another way to impact the play. And it’s the same thing that gives Watt a great chance to do exactly what he’s set out to do.

It’s the reason why you can’t count Watt out for anything he sets his mind to do.