Watt, Clay declare for NFL draft

first_imgView Gallery (4 Photos)The Wisconsin Badgers will no doubt use the recent 21-19 Rose Bowl loss to fuel their efforts for another conference title next season. But J.J. Watt and John Clay won’t be around to help the cause.Instead, Watt and Clay elected to forgo their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft.Watt, UW’s dominant defensive end who finished third in the nation with 21 tackles for loss, admitted the decision to leave Wisconsin early was one of the toughest he’s ever had to make, but in the end a chance to play in the NFL was too good an opportunity to pass up“This has, without a doubt, been one of the most difficult decisions of my life, and it is one that was not reached quickly, or easily,” Watt said in an open letter to fans. “At this time, I have made the decision to enter the 2011 NFL Draft. It has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember to play in the National Football League, and through hard work and dedication, that dream finally has a chance to become a reality.“I will be a Wisconsin Badger for life and am forever grateful for all of the love and support that the fans, administration and community have shown to my family and I during my time in Madison,” Watt continued. “I could not have asked for better coaches to play for, better teammates to play alongside or a better fan base to represent throughout my collegiate career.”The Pewaukee native became a fan favorite in Madison after transferring from Central Michigan for a walk-on opening with his hometown Badgers, and the junior defensive end has flourished as a playmaking defensive end during his two seasons as a starter for UW.While the defensive end will be extremely difficult to replace, head coach Bret Bielema supported Watt’s decision in a statement.“I talked with multiple people connected with NFL teams on J.J.’s behalf to make sure he had the best information to make an informed decision and one that he was comfortable with,” Bielema said. “He is a terrific example of what we want our student-athletes to be, both on and off the field, and he will be missed. I wish him nothing but the best, and I know he will be successful in his future endeavors.”Bielema also has to part ways with Clay, Wisconsin’s star running back who leaves UW with the third-highest career touchdown total (41) and seventh all-time in rushing with 3,413 yards.“There are a lot of people that I would like to thank who have helped me along the way,” Clay said in a statement. “I’d like to thank the great Wisconsin fans for supporting me throughout my time as a Badger. I’d also like to thank my family for helping me through this process.“I want to thank my coaches for giving me the opportunity to come to Wisconsin and putting me in a position to showcase my talents. Also, thanks to my teammates for everything they have done to help me. Finally, I have to give glory to God for blessing me with this opportunity. This is the right decision for me at this time, and I’m excited to start a new chapter.”Clay has been a workhorse for Wisconsin throughout his career, and Bielema expressed how proud he is to see another UW running back have so much success in the Badger program.“Since coming to Wisconsin, John has gone above and beyond all of our expectations both on and off the field,” Bielema said. “His tremendous production on the field speaks for itself, but we are also proud of him as a teammate and the work he has done in the classroom and off the field. We support his decision and wish him luck.”Watt’s and Clay’s departures make room for younger players to step into bigger roles, and their two respective position groups both enjoy solid depth. UW will return the other three starters along the defensive line, and sophomore defensive end David Gilbert appears poised to slot into the starting lineup. The Badgers rotated 11 players along the D-line at times during the regular season so there are plenty of options, but it will be a challenge to replace Watt’s instinct and productivity.Despite Clay’s decision to jump to the pros, the running back situation is in great shape. Montee Ball and James White proved they could handle the load when Clay was injured down the stretch and Zach Brown is set to return to action as a redshirt senior. Wisconsin never seems to have any problem finding capable running backs, and UW will rely heavily on its ground game once again in 2011.last_img

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