J.J. Watt

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt will speak at UW-Madison's spring commencement ceremony.

NFL star and former Badger football player J.J. Watt will deliver the spring commencement address to UW-Madison’s class of 2019.

Watt, who transferred to UW-Madison as a walk-on for the Badgers football team in 2008, will return to Camp Randall May 11 to speak to graduates.

Watt’s rise through the football ranks has become an inspiring tale to underdogs everywhere, the university said.

Born in Waukesha and a graduate of Pewaukee High School, Watt gave up a football scholarship after one season at Central Michigan University to transfer to UW-Madison, even though he was told he wasn’t big enough or fast enough to be a Badger. He went on to become a star defensive lineman and second-team All-American at the university. He left a year early and was signed by the Houston Texans as the No. 11 overall draft pick of 2011.

Watt, who has played for the Texans eight seasons, was dubbed the “best defensive player of his generation” by Sports Illustrated.

Watt’s philanthropic foundation, which he created when he was an undergraduate, raised $37 million for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The campaign launch had a goal of raising $200,000 for Houston in 2017.

Commencement speakers are selected by senior class officers. The university covers the speaker’s travel expenses but does not pay other fees.

“We are so excited to invite J.J. Watt back to Camp Randall,” senior class president Ronald Steinhoff said in the university’s announcement.

“His ability to lead, on and off the field, made him an easy choice. We can’t wait to hear how J.J. Watt will send graduates out into a world that needs more Badgers who give back, just as he did.”

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Kelly Meyerhofer covers higher education for the Wisconsin State Journal. She can be reached at 608-252-6106 or kmeyerhofer@madison.com.