BY KRISTIE RIEKEN
HOUSTON (AP) — J.J. Watt was ready to discuss his preparations for the Houston Texans’ opener — and his return from a back injury that sidelined him for most of last season.
But first he took a few moments Tuesday to receive yet another donation — the biggest one yet — to a fundraising effort he set up in the days after Hurricane Harvey.
Watt accepted the check for $5 million from HEB Grocery Company, giving him more than $28 million in donations. Then he discussed how he’s handled getting back to football with the city just beginning to recover from the storm.
“It’s obviously a balance … I’ve had a foundation my whole career,” Watt said. “I’ve been doing things like this my whole career, obviously not on this scale, but when I’m in meetings, when I’m at practice, when I’m in the weight room, that’s where 100 percent of my focus is.”
Watt leaves his cellphone on airplane mode when he’s at the facility so he can handle football duties without interruption. He joked about being so busy getting ready for the game that he hadn’t yet reached out to Jimmy Fallon to thank him for the $1 million he donated to Watt’s fund on Tuesday night.
“I appreciate him and sorry, Jimmy, you can look out for an email from me here as soon as practice is over,” Watt said.
Sunday’s game against Jacksonville will be Watt’s first since Sept. 22 after his second back surgery forced him to miss the final 13 games of last season. And while his attention is on making sure he’s ready for that game, he certainly knows what Sunday’s game could mean to the city.
“This is so much bigger than a game, but for three hours on Sunday, we want to take people’s minds off of everything that just happened,” he said. “We want to give them an escape from everything that just happened, so I know for a fact that our guys are going to give every single thing that we have to make sure that we put a smile on this city’s face and give them something to cheer about for three hours.”
The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year can’t wait to get back on the field after missing the first games of his six-year career last season. The Texans believe he’ll return to form in no time.
“He’s had an excellent preseason. He’s fully healthy,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think I’ve said this now a 1,000 times. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to block him, so it’s been very difficult. I would expect him to go out there, be his usual self (and) play very well.”
In usual Watt style, the man who has piled up 76 sacks in his career insisted that he has no worries about if he can return to form this season.
“Any of those concerns were more handled in OTAs and training camp and then the preseason snaps that I did get,” he said. “I’m going into this game extremely confident. I’m going into this game with a ton of energy, with a ton of excitement and I feel very, very good about where I’m at going into this game.”
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