HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Lately there have been so many J.J. Watt sightings, it seems like football season never ended.  Between shaking hands with wounded military heroes at a Rockets game, throwing out the first pitch of the Astros’ American League debut, or having a baby King penguin named after him in Moody Gardens, #99 has permeated Houston’s local culture.

Houston, meet Mr. Houston.

Watt may have far surpassed any expectations on the football field, but he has done the same off the field, becoming a local sensation all over town.  Watt’s record-breaking NFL season, dedication to children, the military, and his willingness to happily give an autograph or pose for pictures with fans makes him the new face of Houston sports.  He even seems to be enjoying himself.  After throwing out the first pitch, he joked,

“I was pleased with it. I think it was probably one of the fastest ceremonial first pitches out there.”

After the Rockets clinched a playoff spot Tuesday night, Watt tweeted,

“Playoff Bound. #Rockets”

Humble Beginnings and Work Ethic

How does a young professional athlete embrace the spotlight but remain so grounded?

Watt’s father John was a firefighter and his mother Connie worked her way up from a secretary to a vice president.  Watt’s well-known past includes walking away from scholarship at Central Michigan and delivering pizzas.  He was a walk-on at University of Wisconsin and the rest is history.  Watt’s path was winding and it is no wonder his motto has been “Work hard. Dream big.”

The J.J. Salute

Watt, who gives a military salute each time he sacks a quarterback, also shows his appreciation to the military. He was one of six NFL players on the March NFL-USO tour of U.S. military bases in the Middle East.

“The USO tour was incredible.  It really opens your eyes. You go over there and you understand what these guys go through. I was there for seven days and these guys are there for nine to twelve months at a time. It gives you so much respect and so much appreciation,” Watt said.

The Pro-Bowler met with troops, saluted them first hand, and even played a game of two-hand touch in Afghanistan.

“These men and women volunteer to go over there and protect our country and serve and ensure our freedom.  It was so great to go over there and shake their hands and say thank you and personally thank them face-to-face for everything they have done.”

Good With The Kids

While many athletes relish their privacy and find the media attention stifling, Watt seems to embrace it. On April 27, 2013, he launches the J.J. Watt Charity Classic  to benefit his foundation, the Justin J. Watt Foundation, which provides after-school opportunities in athletics for children.

Watt’s dedication to area children tugged at heartstrings when he did the infamous wheelchair celebration in honor of the three Berry children who lost both parents in a head-on collision on July 2, 2011.  Two of the children were paralyzed from the waist down.  Watt befriended the children and came up with the idea after a game of wheelchair basketball.

“I was eating dinner at their house on Friday night.  They said they’re going to be watching the game. They said give us a signal.  I said OK, when I get a sack, I’ll do the wheelchair,”  he told the Houston Chronicle.

LL Cool J.J.

Grown men and children are not the only ones fawning all over Watt.  Hearts were breaking all over Houston during prom season when Watt tweeted,

“Ok, I feel like I need to address this. I see all of the prom invitations and I am flattered, but unfortunately I cannot take you all.”

It was followed shortly by:

“Love you guys and appreciate your unbelievable support.  Meet me at Reliant on gamedays this fall and we’ll dance there.”

One fan did catch Watt’s attention. When a YouTube video surfaced of a six-year old girl crying because she was too young to marry her favorite Texan player, Watt tracked her down through Facebook, surprised her with flowers, and asked her to be his pretend wife for the day.

Watt’s Love For Houston

Nicknamed “J.J. Swat” for his signature move of batting down quarterback passes, the Texans defensive end is a fan favorite.  It helps that Watt recorded a Pro-Bowl year and was named 2012 Defensive Player of the Year, but the love is mutual.  After his pitching debut at the Astros home-opener, Watt tweeted,

“Cannot express how much appreciation I have for the unbelievable amount of love the state of Texas has shown me. Best fans out there.”

Houston has had some amazing sports role models in the past.  Is J.J. Watt the next one?