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December 29, 2010
Q. J.J., can you just take us back to the recruiting process for you, and you know, your year at Central Michigan and how you ended up here with the Badgers?
J.J. WATT: Yeah. Well, I committed to Central Michigan to Coach Brian Kelly, and he obviously left for Cincinnati and is now at Notre Dame.
So then I reopened my commitment, and I committed to the University of Minnesota to Coach Glen Mason, and then he was relieved of his duties after the Insight Bowl. So I reopened my commitment again. I visited four or five schools and ended up settling back on Central Michigan where I started at tight end my true freshman year, and I believe I caught only like eight passes, somewhere like 77 yards. So I realized if I wanted to accomplish my goal of some day playing in the NFL, I had to kind of make a change.
So I went out on a limb. My parents supported me the whole time and they offered to pay the $20,000 that I needed to walk on at Wisconsin. I walked on at Wisconsin. Coach Bielema gave me an opportunity, and I was scout team for a year, or Scout Team Player of the Year and earned a full scholarship and started my Red Shirt sophomore year, and here I am playing in the Rose Bowl. And it's been just an unbelievable experience, and I really never could have managed that it would go this way. So extremely grateful for everybody who helped me throughout the process, and can't thank everybody enough.
Q. This is for Jay and Aaron. It seems like it's been forever and a day since you guys played against northwestern. How have you guys been able to stay focused and keep that momentum going, because you guys were playing so well at the end of the season.
JAY VALAI: I think it's pretty easy to focus when we're playing in one of the biggest games ever, especially in my career, and pretty much for Hank, too, but playing against a great team like TCU, you better focus, or else you're going to go out there and get embarrassed on national TV, which is a no-no, and I think that's first and foremost. Hank?
AARON HENRY: Yeah, we have been off for a while, but we've been practicing like we haven't been off. So yes, we haven't played in a game, but these practices are very, very intense. You know what I'm saying?
So was there a little bit of rust early on, yes, ma'am, there was, but for the most part, man, I think our coaches have done a great job in preparing us for this game.
Q. J.J., Jay obviously had that hilarious story in the Northwestern game about telling you to go out and do stuff, and then you actually did it. I don't know if he's clairvoyant or what, but do you feel guys feeding off your energy and what you bring to the table? Do they ever tell you to tone it down? What is that all about?
J.J. WATT: I sure hope they do. I mean we were just talking yesterday when they showed some of our highlights at Lawry's that I kind of turn into a different player when I step on to the game field.
I don't know what it is. I get this energy flowing through me, and I'm having a blast out there. And I really just let the adrenaline take over on game day. So I really hope it energizes the guys. My intent is definitely not to take away from the team aspect at any point. But I just really enjoy playing the game of football, and I really enjoy playing with these guys, so I let that energy flow free on game day, and can't wait to do it in the Rose Bowl.
Q. For any of you guys, what does it mean to you guys to have Coach Doeren here for this week, that he stayed with you guys through the Rose Bowl?
JAY VALAI: It means everything coming to an end. Coach Doeren stayed with us. Obviously he was our defensive coordinator the last five years here, and it means a lot for him to stay with us. I know he has another heavy-paying job lined up right now, but for him to stay with us, it means a lot. And we know one thing about Wisconsin, we gotta finish, and he's proving the point by staying with us and staying focused with us. Coach Doeren put still being the coordinator at Wisconsin ahead of being head coach of Northern Illinois which you gotta respect a lot right now.
AARON HENRY: I'll probably say for me, man, it's probably a little more personal just for the simple fact that Coach Doeren was the guy who walked into my home and recruited me and offered me a scholarship. We actually had a chance when he recruited me to play one on one and he was the guy who kind of -- you know what I'm saying, he was kind of like a father figure. So when he told me that he was leaving, I actually found out from him. He called me before all the stuff broke out on ESPN or whatnot and he told me that he loved me, he cared about me, and that I was old enough now. It was kind of like your father, like sending you off, like I'm old enough, son, you're going to be a senior next year. You can take care of this team and take care of your responsibilities here at the university. So you don't need me around any more.
So man, it's just a great experience thus far for him and his family for him to go out there and to get a job at NIU, and it's unbelievable. And we at Wisconsin wish him all the best, but it's just tremendous for him to even offer to finish out the season because he has a ton of stuff he has to do when this game is over in preparing his NIU team. So like Jay was saying, we finish at Wisconsin, and he's just a product of us finishing.
J.J. WATT: I think it's also kind of a testament to our team, and it kind of shows you what our team is about. I mean we've worked so hard to get here, and Coach Doeren has been such a big part of it that he doesn't want to leave before the end product is completed.
And we've been working since the end of the Miami game to get to where we are today, and he's been a monster part of that process, so for him to be able to come back and finish, I think is a big deal to him, and it's obviously an extremely big deal to us to have him on our sidelines. So we can't wait to play this last game with him, and we wish him all the best at NIU, that's for sure.
Q. Guys, a couple years ago, Bret caught a lot of heat because of the special teams play of this team. This year I don't know how many games special teams turned things around, whether it was blocked kicks or the faked punt. Can you talk about the improved special teams, and having so many key starters on the special teams, and being involved in it?
JAY VALAI: I think turning a weakness to a strength was a major thing we did this year. You know, we had a couple hot games there for a second, Arizona State and Michigan State. We really woke up from those games and knew we had to really emphasize special teams, as we said at the beginning of the year.
Getting slapped in the face like that, you know, that Michigan State one could have basically kind of cost us the game, and then Arizona State barely made a couple stops here and there. I think we really focused in on it. Coach B's really preached on it, Coach Partridge, Coach Rudolph and Coach Ash have done a great job of coaching special teams, and guys have locked in. Even Hank doing returns or J.J. blocking a couple of kicks or me going under somebody's legs and blocking a kick, you know, it was all good.
AARON HENRY: In large part I think the most important thing that Coach B tried to preach, man, was if you're going to be a starter on this team and consider yourself to be a player on this team, man, you're going to have to be on special teams, and that's why it's called special teams because when you're in a real, real close ball game and it's a good football team, special teams can often times be the difference maker. So with a lot of our key players that are on special teams, like a lot of teams we feel like we do have the advantage because a lot of teams put their okay guys on special teams. Maybe at returner they have a prime-time guy, but for us man here at this program we try to thrive off special teams, and that's how a lot of guys get their name out there as well.
Q. J.J. what's the "dream big work hard" thing? Is that just a thing you've always had?
J.J. WATT: For high school year book they asked for a senior quote, and I looked through a lot of the typical quotes, a lot of the Lombardi quotes, stuff like that. But I really wanted to come up and that meant something to me, that I could leave.
And I worked hard at it, and I came up with "dream big, work hard." It really exemplifies what I am as a person and what I want to be represented as. I want to kind of get the message out that if you dream big, you can do anything you want in the world, but that's only half of it. If you're not willing to work hard and put in the time and the effort that it takes, you're just going to be dreaming. That's exactly what you'll be doing.
So "dream big work hard" is just something that means a lot to me and I really want to help spread the message about, that kids everywhere can do whatever they want in the world if they're willing to put in the time and effort to work at it.
Q. Aaron, I heard you talk about rubbing elbows with a few celebrities. Who have you guys run into this week?
AARON HENRY: Well, I'm not going to say the most important celebrity, but the main one, probably should say the only one I've ran into was Meagan Good. You guys probably don't know her, but in the African-American community she's very, very popular. And this young lady is she is as good as advertised. So it was definitely an honor to meet her. She actually gave me a hug as well. So that was pretty nice.
Q. For the three of you, if you could, give me one thing about this TCU offense that concerns you going into it? Is there anything that concerns you, anything that stands out from them? Start with you.
AARON HENRY: I think for the most part, man, the only thing that probably concerns me is them coming up in a formation that we haven't practiced all week. You know what I'm saying, like TCU they give us a ton of stuff, and only thing that probably really concerns me is if they pop up in this weird formation or they give us something the whole first half that we haven't really been working on. So that's probably really my only concern. Other than that, it's just going to boil down to tackling in the open field.
J.J. WATT: I think No. 1 thing you gotta do is you gotta read your keys. With an effective team like TCU, with the running game they have and with Dalton back there, too, you don't read your keys it's going up and right over your head to Kerley or any of the other receivers you got; and if you're not reading your keys quick enough, they're going to run that ball right down your throat, because what guys don't realize is that obviously they rushed as many yards as we did this year. They're an effective rushing team and effective passing team, and Andy Dalton is equal to Scott Tolzien, so we gotta go out there and execute and do what we gotta do.
JAY VALAI: For me, Andy Dalton gets the ball out very quickly. He doesn't sit back in the pocket very long. So I just need to work on getting my hands up, getting in the passing lanes. There might not be as many sacks this game, but I'm going to do everything I can and the defensive line is going to do everything they can to take the pressure off the defensive backs in the passing situations.
J.J. WATT: We would appreciate that. (Laughs).
Q. Let's face facts. All three of you guys like to talk. When things get heated in a defensive meeting room, is there enough oxygen in the room, and who takes over?
AARON HENRY: I would probably have to say Jay Valai, for the most part. I know in our defensive team meeting rooms, Jay Valai is the guy when things get heated. I mean he is a senior. He is the guy that's going to step up and speak on behalf of all of us. I don't know how it is in the D line room, but for the DBs, Jay is the guy who's going to speak on behalf of all the defensive backs.
JAY VALAI: I think all three of us, Andy and Culmer as well, we all speak up at different times. That's what I think makes our defense special. You know, I remember I think it was Minnesota game when we were up by a lot, you know, I think they scored like a late touchdown, Aaron brought us all together.
J.J., you know, when momentum is swinging, I think versus Northwestern, y'all were saying the whole J.J. blocked a field goal, J.J. do this. J.J. brings the team together. I remember two exact drives, J.J. will get a fumble. Hey, everybody bring it up, bring it up, bring it up, and then he just gets a fumble and throws that "W" up, which makes me sick. J.J. makes a play.
You know, one thing, like I said, Culmer does it as well, and I do it too. That's what makes our defense really special. We have more than one leader, and we can really count on each other.
Q. Jay Valai is hands down the loudest. (Laughs). Jay, how has Coach Chris Ash helped you this year, not only as a player, but just mentally and emotionally?
JAY VALAI: He made me feel taller, first of all. But coach ash has been a great coach. As a technician, he's over the top, but he's over the top to get you better, and there's a reason for it. It's kind of like when your parents spank you when you're little, there's a reason they spank you. They don't spank you just to do it.
But Coach Ash has been a great coach. He's a technician, like I said. He's a smart dude. He's funny, but once again, one thing he really brought was a sense of urgency to the defensive backs room and we realize this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He loves Eminem obviously. He always quotes that every day for some reason. I think he's trying to mix the coaches up together, but Coach Ash has been a great coach, and he's going to go on and do great things in the future.
Q. Aaron, I just googled Meagan Good, so I can understand your excitement.
AARON HENRY: Yes, sir.
Q. There's the ceremony of this week, Disneyland, Lawry's, things like that, and then there's the Xs and Os. And today you're going to be doing some charity work, which I think is important to all you guys. Can you talk about that as a chance to represent the university and the state, and you know, what the coach is expecting from you guys off the field?
JAY VALAI: Well, I just think that's just a major part of our program, and I mean we are known as top-notch Division I football players, but as J.J. was saying, that dream big, work hard thing goes a long way, especially when you can walk into a hospital room and just kids who are going through things that we can only imagine, you know what I'm saying, whether it's them fighting cancer or kids being homeless. That's only half of what we can do. You know what I'm saying, like just showing up.
So I just think that's just a testament to our program, and that's our way that we give back. The NCAA doesn't allow us to give them money or any other things, but that's our way of showing them love, showing that we care about them, showing that we just don't play the game because we love it, but we play the game in order to inspire people who are going through situations like yours.
J.J. WATT: I think it says something about our team that even before we knew of any of the community service opportunities out here, that guys were asking if there were opportunities. That's just the type of team that we are.
Back in Madison everybody tries to help out as much as possible in the community, and when we got down here, guys were wondering when was the soonest we could get involved in the community here. Our team just likes to give back because we understand how much the communities around us give to us.
AARON HENRY: Amen.
Q. For all the guys, Coach Doeren compared Scott Tolzien to Andy Dalton, but said Scott's a little athletic. First of all, how do they compare, and is Scott really that unathletic?
JAY VALAI: Yes. (Laughs). Next question. No. Scott had a little -- I think he doubled his career yards in rushing the other day in practice. He had a little 15-yard scamper. He would have slid, too, but I think he wanted to dive for it again. But Scott's a great quarterback. Andy is a great quarterback.
I think Coach Doeren wasn't lying when he said Andy Dalton is a little better athlete. Dalton can run the ball very effectively and you go to sleep on that, he'll take it 15 yards on you and 20 yards on you here and there.
But we respect Andy Dalton a lot, but I think I wouldn't go with any other quarterback in this country but Scott Tolzien, the Unitas Award winner, and he's just a great quarterback in general; leader.
If you want to say any of the captains are No. 1, head captain on this team, I think it would be Scott Tolzien first and foremost because he really represents Wisconsin well at everything he does in his life.
Q. This is a question for whoever wants to take it. Scott said yesterday all this time to prepare he's having a lot of fun with it because TCU is a foreign team that he hasn't seen much of. Is any of that the same defensive side liking at their offense?
J.J. WATT: I mean I think for the most part it's been a pretty exciting run for all of us. I mean TCU is I want to say offensively similar to maybe a couple of teams that we faced this year just for the simple fact that they do spread it out a little bit, they can jam it in a little bit.
But it's pretty exciting for all of us. I think it's more so exciting for all of us because it's the Rose Bowl. If we were playing Boise State or anybody else, we would be just as excited. Not just because it's TCU. Yes, it's going to be a great opportunity, because the last time we played them it was a tie ball game, if I'm not mistaken, but it's just exciting overall.
Q. Thanks for all the great material, first of all. Do you guys have to keep other guys loose so they don't think, oh, my gosh, it's the Rose Bowl?
JAY VALAI: I think it's both. They gotta keep them a little loose, but some guys have been a little too loose here and there, everybody's having fun, but I think everybody's starting to get locked in on what we have to do, you know, why we're here.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which J.J. preaches on a lot, and Aaron does, too, and we don't get another shot at this. So it's cool to have fun in LA, but it's not going to be cool to get killed by 40 points and embarrass me in front of my family at home or the fans here to support us. So we know we're here for first and foremost.
J.J. WATT: They took us to Disneyland and we got to Lawry's last night. So there's plenty of time for us to be loose, but at the end of the day we didn't come here to ride teacups and eat prime rib. We came here to win a football game. So that's what we're looking forward to doing on Saturday and that's why we're working hard all week.
AARON HENRY: Good line. (Laughs). That's smooth. That's very smooth. The mayor of Madison. Make sure you quote J.J. on that. You better twitter that now, brother.
Q. Culmer at Disneyland said that he almost felt like it was defense versus defense. Maybe that's just his opinion, but is there a feeling among the defense that because they're ranked No. 1 that you guys obviously gotta do what you gotta do?
J.J. WATT: American football is defense versus offense, so I don't know what Culmer is talking about.
AARON HENRY: Culmer is watching the wrong defense.
JAY VALAI: Yeah. I guess.
J.J. WATT: No. Obviously they have the No. 1 defense in the country and as a defensive player you want to go out there and show that you're the best defense every single time you take the field.
Our offense is a great offense and I'm looking forward to watching that matchup. It's going to be great. But at the same time we need to hold our own on the defense and we need to create some take-aways so we can give our offense the ball as many times as possible.
JAY VALAI: I think for me, man, I don't know if we look at it as really a challenge against the other defense. Like J.J. was saying, it's just going to boil down to us doing what we gotta do, and hopefully we can take care of our business and our offense can do the same and we can come out victorious at the end of the day.
Q. J.J., any chance this is your last game at Wisconsin?
J.J. WATT: There it is.
AARON HENRY: Good question.
J.J. WATT: I really just kind of put all that thought process behind me, and I'm really here focusing 110 percent on the Rose Bowl simply because it wouldn't be fair to myself, it wouldn't be fair to my teammates, my coaches, the entire state if I was thinking about other things during this week. So I'm 110 percent locked into the Rose Bowl. I'm 110 percent committed to the Wisconsin football team, and we can discuss all those things after the game.
AARON HENRY: "Dream big, work hard."
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, guys.
End of FastScripts