15 Star Athletes Who Had to Walk On to Their College Teams

These pro athletes are stars now, but they had to work their way to the top.

J.J. Watt

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J.J. Watt

It might be hard to believe now that he is among the most dominant defenders in the NFL, but the monster known as J.J. Watt was a walk-on.

A two-star recruit coming out of high school, Watt signed with Central Michigan and played tight end there his freshman year. But Watt, who grew up in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, had always dreamed of playing at the University of Wisconsin.

So he transferred to a community college and began working as a pizza delivery guy with the intent of saving money for college. While the months he spent working for Pizza Hut weren't his most glamorous moments, Watt believes they taught him a lot.

"(I) reminded myself that I wasn't going to become a star overnight. I was learning a lot of things about myself by going through those times. I felt like I had so much I wanted to show people and they just couldn't see it," Watt told ESPN in 2011.

Watt also focused on building his body, working with Brad Arnett, his long-time trainer, four days a week. Wisconsin eventually informed him that he could walk on the team as a defensive end. Watt tore it up on the scout team during the 2008 season, earning a scholarship before the end of fall camp as well as the team's Scout Team Player of the Year award.

After redshirting in 2008 and being a solid contributor in 2009, Watt had his breakout season in 2010. He led the Badgers in tackles for loss, quarterback hurries, forced fumbles and blocked kicks en rout to All-Big Ten first-team honors.

Watt skipped his senior season to enter the 2011 NFL Draft. After blowing up the NFL Combine with 34 reps on the Bench Press and a 6.88 3-Cone Shuttle, the Houston Texans selected Watt with the 11th overall pick.

The pick spurred one local Houston sportswriter to state the Texans "played it safe and went with the pizza boy", claiming it was "hard to see (Watt) changing games for Houston on defense".

Watt's since won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards. The same mentality that helped Watt go from walk-on to NFL star sticks with him today, spurring him to do things like walk 12 miles a day while rehabbing from back surgery.

Watt's story personifies the motto of his foundation: "Dream Big, Work Hard." Learn how you can train one-on-one with J.J. Watt.