Not going to lie, the first time I saw J.J. Watt this week at the Gatorade High School Player of the Year Awards, all I could think of was that he was going to destroy me and shove me off an escalator at the LA Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. There he was: the glorious smile, the all-American hair, the broad shoulders that need both French doors open before he can exit his log cabin in Wisconsin.
There’s something that happens to men inside when they are in the presence of J.J. Watt. He’s like Tim Tebow without all the religiousness. Maybe he’s holy, I don’t know, but he’s not all jacked up and throwing it in your face. You instantly know Watt is the biggest badass in the room just by the smell of fear. It’s in the air. The guy is that big, that dominant, that fast, that intimidating with his glorious hair.
But he had to be pretentious, right? There’s no way he could just be a good dude, who is even nicer than he seems on TV and Twitter. It had to be an act, right? He’s just always trying too hard to be the all-American who wants everyone to like him.
It wasn’t an act. More below.
So Gatorade holds its awards show hosted by Hannah Storm. The professional athlete guests include: Watt, Demarco Murray, Candace Parker, Draymond Green, Landon Donovan, Karl-Anthony Towns, Julie Foudy and Abby Wambach. This was the 30th year of the Gatorade Player of the Year program and the 13th year of holding a ceremony. It’s obviously a huge deal for the high school athletes that will forever have Gatorade on their resume and it’s also a major deal for the professionals that give their time for the night.
Most of the eyes are on Watt, but the awards part of the night were led flawlessly by Wambach and Donovan; Julie Foudy also had herself a night. Donovan (who is already dabbling) and Wambach will have long careers in soccer media if they go that route. Wambach is so personable and her enthusiasm is infectious. She’s hitting the soccer media career route pretty much at the perfect time and has a very good chance to make a fortune in the field as networks flush with soccer cash fight over talent.
The male winner was Kyler Murray, who’ll play quarterback at Texas A&M. He finished his Texas high school career at 42-0 as a starting QB.
The female winner was Candace Hill, a sprinter from Conyers, Georgia who became the first high school girl to break the 11-second mark in the 100-meter dash.
The night also included a special moment when Stuart Scott, the longtime host of the Gatorade Awards, was remembered with a video and speech from his two daughters.
• Gatorade, as you would imagine, is first-class with its awards show operation. There’s a media room filled with approximately 30 outlets from print, TV and internet. You pick the athletes to interview and then Gatorade PR reps go to work making sure everyone has their turn.
• You get five minutes with the athlete; the reps have stopwatches. Not kidding.
• You guys know I’m a big Wambach fan because she’s like a giant power forward out there playing against a bunch of women that are like 5-4, 115. Being a big fan of an athlete’s television persona — if they seem cool — is usually bad news because they’re going to end up being jerks. Not Wambach at all. She’s very serious about her promotion of the women’s game and understands it’s up to a powerful voice like hers to push the sport forward. Maybe you saw how she handled her ESPYs duties during the Caitlyn Jenner segment. Abby is the real deal.
• Landon Donovan is a guy you could go drinking with and you’d probably argue a lot, but you’d leave thinking he’d make a good awards show host. He’s an intelligent dude who is a good interview.
• Dinner was pretty good. I could cut the filet with a butter knife; the mushroom polenta was insane.
• Karl-Anthony Towns’ dress shoes were pretty cool.
• This was the first time I’ve been invited to an awards show so I don’t have anything to base this on, but Gatorade goes to the top of my ‘Best Awards Show’ list. Great athletes, great emcee, great food, smooth media room process, very nice after-party that even had In & Out burgers for those of us who worked up an appetite during the interviews.
• 20 hours in Los Angeles isn’t fair, but I’m still thankful for Gatorade helping me escape the Amazon of Ohio for a night.
There’s no act with Watt. In fact, I came away feeling as if the guy was even more impressive after this event. Of course he is representing a brand. I get that. But he didn’t have to answer a question about Zach Mettenberger. He didn’t have to come up to Team BC and shoot the breeze before we even chatted. He could’ve just sat there like a wall and not get fired up about his fun summer.
There was so much more I wanted to ask him like how fun it is destroying my quarterback Andy Dalton. We didn’t even get into a conversation about the log cabin story that I blew up in March. I didn’t even have time to ask him about wrestling bears.
I will meet with Watt again. It must happen.
Wambach on her role with the USWNT
Kyler Murray on the possibility of facing Watt one of these days (Jack the Camera Guy added the closed captioning because he screwed up the audio)
Donovan on the Gatorade POY Awards