HOUSTON - JJ Watt is leaving the Texans and leaving behind quite a legacy, having impacted a lot of lives off the field.
Over the course of his nearly-a-decade in Houston, the NFL defensive end has spent so much of his off-field time being a positive force for some of the people in his community who needed it the most--perhaps most notably when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and he was with the Texans at an away game.
"Very difficult to watch your family, your friends, your city go through a time like this and not be there to help--not be there to go through it with them," Watt said at a press conference after that game.
Witnessing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Watt wasted no time creating a fundraiser with a goal of raising $200,000, and he’d match the first $100,000. He had no idea the support his efforts would garner, eventually bringing in more than $41 million for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.
"JJ’s impact was so inspirational right after Harvey, and the lives that were impacted by his funding," said Elizabeth Egle with SBP, one of the charities that benefitted from JJ’s fundraising.
SBP rebuilt hundreds of homes across five counties in the Houston area. JJ was there to welcome some of the families who’d lost everything into their new homes.
"If it were not for JJ Watt’s generous gift, they would not have been able to return home," said Javelle Johnson with SBP.
When a mass shooter killed 10 and injured 13 at Santa Fe High School, JJ was there again, offering to pay all funeral expenses and visiting survivors like Sarah Salazar, a student whose lung was pierced by a bullet.
"When you have a professional athlete, that has a heart as big as JJ Watt, come to a hospital and spend time with a young lady who’s suffered through a tragedy here in Santa Fe, such as the one we’ve dealt with, it means a lot to the kids," said Paul Oreilly, Salazar’s godfather.
And then there were Peter and Aaron Berry, who lost both parents and were paralyzed in a car accident the same year JJ moved to Houston.
"I was eight when I met him for the first time," said Aaron. "Now, I’m about to turn 18."
JJ became a role model and support system for the boys over the years, from hanging out at practice to dinners together, video games and basketball.
"He’s definitely had a positive impact," said Aaron. "I think he has a positive impact on everyone he meets."
The brothers told FOX 26 they were happy for JJ’s future, but sad to see him leave Houston.
"Very, very happy and excited for him—for JJ—and I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for not only me and my family, but the City of Houston at large," said Peter.