As he looked around his Philadelphia hotel room, J.J. Watt wondered if he'd ever play football again.
It was January.
Watt, who had just completed his fourth All-Pro season and was named the 2015 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, felt discouraged as he recovered from extensive groin surgery.
"There were some days there where I really, really questioned whether or not I would ever be able to play again," Watt said Wednesday. "Just some of the stuff we were dealing with from a rehab standpoint, just the way the recovery was going early on, but that was way back in January, February. There was a very low point there. It was tough. I was in a hotel room in Philadelphia for I think 10 days straight not being able to really walk or do anything. There was definitely a tough point there."
Watt said he had five muscles replaced, both lower abdominal muscles had to be reattached, as well as two of his left abductors and a right abductor. For weeks, getting out of bed and walking down the hallway was a slow, arduous task. Watt and Roland Ramirez, rehabilitation coordinator/assistant athletic trainer, had been trying a new approach.
It wasn't showing much promise, until one morning when Watt had a breakthrough.
He was in San Francisco during the week of Super Bowl 50. Watt woke up and lifted his right leg straight up into the air. It was something he tried, without success, to do every day since his surgery.
"I called him right away," Watt said. "I sent him a video and I was like 'look.' So then I got up and tried some other stuff. I actually did up-downs in the room right there and sent him a video of it. I was like, 'dude, it worked. Everything that we did worked.' From that point forward, as soon as you get that little bit of light, it's full steam ahead. That's what was awesome."
Watt completed his rehab and returned to the practice field during the Texans nine-week offseason conditioning program. Days before the start of training camp, Watt received more bad news. The herniated disc that had been plaguing him during the 2015 season would also require surgery. He'd miss training camp, preseason, and possibly the start of the regular season.
"After going through the other one, this was almost like, alright, screw it, let's just get it over with, let's do it, let's get through it," Watt said of his back surgery. "This one has almost been a fun challenge to overcome."
Watt credits his medical team consisting of surgeon Dr. (Mark Prasarn) and Dr. Walter Lowe, who consulted, as well as head athletic trainer Geoff Kaplan and Ramirez.
"I have spent probably hours and hours each day with Geoff Kaplan and Roland Ramirez here," Watt said. "Those guys were awesome in helping me and also awesome in being willing to have an aggressive approach. I think that after a surgery, the rehab can go one of many ways. These guys were willing to accept my aggressive style and we did it in a smart fashion. But, we did it in a way that we knew that this really wasn't going to be an issue."
This week Watt returned to practice. He will be running out of the tunnel at NRG Stadium for his sixth-consecutive Texans regular season opener, a goal Watt had set for his recovery. While this offseason was the toughest of his NFL career, the star defensive end sees the upcoming season with a different perspective.
"I'm really looking forward to coming out and having a new mountain to climb," Watt said. "It's been a lot of fun. There have been some days where it has sucked, where it absolutely sucked, but I really enjoyed the adversity that we faced and I enjoyed having to overcome those things and challenges that I really haven't had before. I hope to never have an offseason like this again. But, I definitely learned and grew from it."
The Texans host the Chicago Bears on Sunday at NRG Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon CT and will be broadcast on FOX-26 and SportsRadio 610.
A collection of photos of J.J. Watt from the 2015 season.