Dream Big, Work Hard.
On the surface it’s two simple statements, but in reality, it’s a mission statement for NFL All-Pro defensive lineman JJ Watt’s career on and off the field.
Watt’s accomplishments on the field are well documented. Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Five-time Pro Bowler. The Houston Texans star has even led the league in sacks twice.
His foundation, the Justin J. Watt Foundation, has made a huge impact the past couple of years by donating uniforms, jerseys and equipment to middle schools and junior high schools across the country. In fact, his organization has donated nearly $6 million to deserving communities.
Oklahoma schools have been one of the largest recipients of Watts’ generosity. In the past year alone, more than 40 schools have been awarded grants valued at more than $150,000. Two of the most recent recipients have been the communities of Spiro and Gore.
“It’s been about 15 years since we’ve had new shoulder pads for our middle school kids,” said Spiro’s David Hogan, who applied for four years before receiving the grant. “With budget restraints and things like that, it’s hard to find money for these extracurricular activities. I wanted to try and get all new helmets, that way every kid in our middle school would have a brand new helmet and brand new shoulder pads to start the season. That’s what I asked for: 40 shoulder pads and 24 new helmets and that’s what we were awarded.”
Just up the road in Gore, the Pirates were fortunate to receive a grant from the JJ Watt Foundation in May after applying for the first time. They were able to secure new helmets, shoulder pads, jerseys and game pants for their middle school football team.
The fact that it’s middle school boys and girls that are receiving these gifts rather than high school varsity teams makes it even more unique.
“I think it’s great,” said Hogan. “All of our stuff is hand-me-downs from the high school and jayvee, so you have these kids, the equipment is still good, but they don’t get the feeling of being special, getting that feel of putting on that brand new thing for the first time and be the first kid that gets to wear it.”
“It’s really special to them,” added Tyler. “They won’t have a jersey that hangs down to their ankles and their pads and everything are going to fit. Now they’ll be up to date with the new stuff that’s out on the market . We’re really excited about it and our kids will be too.”
Oftentimes, there’s concern the money raised and donated by a celebrity’s foundation isn’t going to the people who need it the most. That’s not the case with Watt.
“JJ Watt, this is from him,” stated Hogan. “His mother called me and messaged me and asked me what I needed. So, it really is a family affair there. It’s not a corporation he’s hired to deal with his money and get him some good press. It’s his family that is really working it and really doing it and making sure that these kids are taken care of and have the best equipment and the best opportunity to get to do the things that they love.”
“It’s more of a needs over wants here at Gore and I’m very blessed to have a great superintendent and principal that hasn’t shot me down for a whole lot of things yet,” added Tyler. “All these donations and grants that we’re getting are going right back into our kids and community. It’s a pretty awesome deal.”
For more information on the JJ Watt Foundation and how to apply for grants, go to jjwfoundation.org.