Neither the news nor the mode of communication came as a surprise to Wisconsin fans.
On his highly popular Twitter account, junior defensive end J.J. Watt announced he will forgo his senior season in Madison in order to enter the 2011 NFL Draft.
"I will be a Wisconsin Badger for life, but at this time I have made the decision to enter the 2011 NFL Draft," Watt communicated via Twitter Thursday afternoon.
The Lott IMPACT Trophy winner was a catalyst on Wisconsin's defense in 2010 and led the Badgers to their first BCS bowl birth, a difficult 21-19 loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl.
"The Wisconsin Badgers will be back to the Rose Bowl," said a teary-eyed Watt after the loss. "I haven't made my decision, but if I'm back [or] if I go, the Wisconsin Badgers will be back to the Rose Bowl. I don't know if it will be next year, but Coach (Bret) Bielema is an outstanding football coach, the Wisconsin football program does things the right way, and Coach (Barry) Alvarez leads the athletic department the right way.
"No doubt about it, the Badgers will be back. They'll be back better than ever, and when they come back, they'll win."
Watt's journey to UW has been well documented. After beginning his college career at Central Michigan, the 6-foot-6, 280-pound prospect elected to walk-on for the Badgers and had to sit out his sophomore season. The Pewaukee, Wis., native quickly earned a full scholarship, however, and will exit as an Associated Press and Sports Illustrated second-team All-American.
"I talked with multiple people connected with NFL teams on J.J.'s behalf to make sure he had the best information to make an informed decision and one that he was comfortable with," Bielema said is a release. "He is a terrific example of what we want our student-athletes to be, both on and off the field, and he will be missed. I wish him nothing but the best and I know he will be successful in his future endeavors."
Watt, whose younger brother, Derek Watt, is a member of the Badgers' 2011 recruiting class, is projected to go in the first two rounds of the draft in April.
"He didn't play his best game against TCU, but Watt did use his hands well to keep TCU tackle Marcus Cannon and other blockers off his body," said Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. "At 6-6 and 280 pounds, he carries his weight well, shows tremendous effort and displays the versatility to line up at both end spots and even reduce inside to tackle on occasion.
"It's obvious, though, that Watt is not an explosive athlete. He's a good fit at left end in a 4-3 defense, but given his lack of burst and overall athleticism, he won't be a double-digit sack guy in the NFL. Watt is ready for the NFL if he enters the draft as a junior, but another year to develop his feet wouldn't hurt, either. He carries a high-second-round grade regardless."
Leaving a huge void at strong-side defensive end, redshirt freshmen Pat Muldoon and Tyler Dippel will be asked fill in for Watt, who finished second on the team with 59 total tackles in 2010.
Along with Watt, Wisconsin will have to replace senior starters Blake Sorensen and Culmer St. Jean at linebacker and Niles Brinkley and Jay Valai in the secondary.
Open Letter to Badger Fans:
First and foremost, I would like to say that my time at the University of Wisconsin has been unbelievable and it has far surpassed anything that I ever could have imagined. I would also like to thank Coach Bielema and the entire coaching staff for giving me the opportunity to play for my home-state team, as well as helping me to succeed both in the classroom and on the field at the highest level possible.
This has, without a doubt, been one of the most difficult decisions of my life, and it is one that was not reached quickly, or easily. At this time, I have made the decision to enter the 2011 NFL Draft. It has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember to play in the National Football League, and through hard work and dedication, that dream finally has a chance to become a reality.
I will be a Wisconsin Badger for life and am forever grateful for all of the love and support that the fans, administration and community have shown to my family and I during my time in Madison. I could not have asked for better coaches to play for, better teammates to play alongside, or a better fan base to represent throughout my collegiate career.
I just want to say thank you again to everyone who has helped me to reach this point in my life, as I would not be here today if it wasn't for an unbelievable amount of support from my family, friends, teachers, coaches and teammates. While I am closing an extremely enjoyable chapter of my life, I am also beginning a new chapter and am very much looking forward to the new challenges that lie ahead.
As I move forward with my life, I will continue to live by the morals and values that have helped to get me where I am today. I am very excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for both myself and for the JJ Watt Foundation, as we try to spread the message to kids that if you "Dream Big and Work Hard," anything is possible.
- JJ Watt