Before he left his house for school each morning, young J.J. Watt’s father shared a simple message with him: Be somebody special.
“He said I shouldn’t go through the world being just anybody,” Watt says. “He wanted me to be somebody, to do something to set myself apart from the crowd.”
Since entering the NFL in 2011, Watt has followed his father’s advice. The Houston Texans' defensive end has spent most days ripping through offensive lines, becoming a household name in the process.
Now, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year has added a more unusual feat to his list of achievements. At an event in New York in June, Watt helped launch the JJ1, which will be available for purchase starting July 15.
The JJ1 was born out of Watt’s past experience with less-than-optimal footwear. “I’m very particular about the shoes that I put on my feet because my feet are my job,” Watt says. “I’ve worn a ton of training shoes in the past and never found something that fit exactly what I needed.”
So in 2015, the four-time Pro Bowler stopped searching for the right product and started building his own. He worked closely with a team at Reebok for more than a year, producing a pair of training shoes that could withstand the workouts that have helped the 6’5’’, 290-pound end earn the reputation as one of the most dominant players in pro football.
In a typical training session, Watt squats, pushes sleds, box jumps, sprints, and even tosses some tractor tires around. He usually switches surfaces, moving between a weightlifting platform or rubber floor to hardwood floor and turf.
“There are shoes for this or for that, but no one wants to buy that many pairs of shoes and then switch within a workout,” Watt says. His solution was to construct a sneaker sturdy enough to handle explosiveness, but light and agile as to enhance speed.
Watt also made an effort to keep his signature shoes within a certain price point. As a kid, he had experiences where pricey athletic equipment was sometimes just out of reach. Watt wants to help lower that barrier with his shoe, which will cost $99.98.
After a year of text messages, meetings, conference calls, and email exchanges with designers at Reebok — as well as a series of tests for each version of the shoe — the end result was the JJ1.
“Today is one of the coolest days ever because I get to unleash something I created,” Watt said at the launch of the shoe. “It’s something I truly believe is the best training shoe in the world.”
But the JJ1 is just the beginning. The shoes are the first part of a campaign Watt has planned with Reebok that he's calling “Hunting Greatness.”
“Every single day I want to be the best. That’s what a true athlete’s mindset is,” Watt says. “If you’re not waking up every day trying to be the best athlete in the world, you’re not doing it right.”
Watt says his parents instilled in him the belief that hard work could result in endless possibilities. His mother worked her way from secretary to vice president of her company, while his father spent 28 years as a firefighter.
“Most people’s version of greatness is not going to be the same as mine,” Watt says. “But if you’re actively hunting greatness every single day with a passion, and this shoe can help you reach your personal version of it, I think that’s the most important thing.”