Steelers All-Pro LB Watt surprises McKeesport football team with visit to practice

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Tuesday, November 8, 2022 | 6:20 PM


It started out as a normal Tuesday practice for the McKeesport football team as it was preparing for Friday’s WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinal game at Armstrong.

Then things changed after McKeesport coach Matt Miller brought his team to midfield to talk. Miller turned away from his players as a man in a grey sweatshirt and red vest approached the team.

Miller said, “Who is that?” Then one of the players said, “That’s T.J. Watt!” And practice became a little more exciting.

The Steelers All-Pro outside linebacker and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year visited practice as part of promotion of Six Star’s Pro Nutrition, an official nutrition partner of McKeesport athletics.

Watt talked to the players about his high school, college and pro experiences and then answered questions from the players. He was a quarterback in high school and switched to tight end at Wisconsin. After a couple of injuries, he switched to defense and his career took off.

Then he watched them practice before eventually meeting with the media. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talked earlier in the day and indicated Watt might return to the lineup Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

“When are you coming back?” was one of the first questions from one of the players.

“Hopefully this week,” Watt said. “I’m going in the right direction. Hopefully I can play Sunday.”

Watt talked to the players about playing high school football at Pewaukee, Wis., and remembering the team’s only loss in his senior season in the playoffs.

“I still think about it,” Watt said. “I know you just sustained a setback, but you at least have another chance.”

Watt discussed the hard work he does in the offseason when he trains with other NFL players.

“My coach in high school taught me a valuable lesson,” Watt said. “He told us never cut back on your workouts. When you running a sprint, you start behind the line and go hard to the finish. He said there is always someone else working just as hard or harder than you.

“When I work out with friends, I know who is cutting things short. I don’t say a thing. I just make sure they have a long day when we go against each other. I knew I had the edge.”

Watt’s appearance at practice was a well-kept secret.

McKeesport quarterback Jahmil Perryman said when he saw Watt, “This is crazy.” One player said, “Oh my God! Do you know who that is? It’s amazing that he was here.”

Perryman asked Watt who was the best team in the WPIAL. Watt admitted he didn’t know much except that the Tigers were, obviously, good and that North Allegheny was good because some of his teammates’ kids play there.

“I liked when he talked about music and his offseason workout,” Perryman said. “That’s something I’ll remember. He said he takes a few weeks off and then gets back to work. He said he sees players cheating, and he never says anything because it will show on the field.”

“Having T.J. Watt come to our practice means a lot,” standout running back Bobbie Boyd said. “He’s been in the same boat as us. He faced adversity and bounced back.”

Boyd also liked what Watt said about following in his brother J.J.’s footsteps and hopes his brother, Anthony, does his own things like T.J did following J.J.

Miller said it was worth keeping Watt’s appearance a secret.

“The players were really shocked,” Miller said. “It was fun seeing their faces and their responses. It was a cool moment.

“We had a loss a couple weeks ago, and having him come in and talk to the kids and they realize things don’t come easy. I think some of the kids had a splash of reality. We came back strong last week, and, hopefully, we’ll come back strong on Friday.”

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.

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