By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) - J.J. Watt is confident he'll return to the field for the Houston Texans next season, feeling good as he recovers from a broken leg.
Watt, who broke his left leg on Oct. 8, began walking without the help of crutches last week and is looking forward to the next steps in his rehabilitation.
"It's a long process," he told The Associated Press. "So it's walking, it's strengthening, then eventually it's running and getting back to football. But we're on track, and next season shouldn't be a problem I don't believe. I have a very excited attitude and we obviously have great rehab guys and trainers and stuff so it's going to be good."
Watt sustained a tibial plateau fracture to end his season early for the second straight year. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year returned in 2017 after missing the last 13 games of last season following his second back surgery. The defensive end played every game in his first five seasons in the NFL before his injury last year.
He knows that he has a long way to go before he'll be ready to play football again, but the 28-year-old got a boost when he was able to walk again.
"Friday was my first day walking and it was an extremely happy day," he said. "You don't get to walk for two months, it's crazy how such a simple thing like walking can really just - it was awesome. So now to be able to move around I feel great. I feel really good. I'm very excited about the rehab process. Obviously it's a long process but I'm excited."
Watt had 15 tackles this season, but didn't get a sack in five games. He had 1 1/2 sacks last season, after leading the NFL with 17 ½ sacks in 2015 and finishing second in 2014 with 20 ½.
Before his latest injury Watt became a key figure in Houston's rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey after a fundraiser he began raised more than $37 million. He's been extremely hands on in working with the organizations and visiting the people who have received the donations, raising the question of if he plans to focus on humanitarian efforts when his NFL career is done.
But Watt isn't quite ready to declare what his plans for after football will be.
"I'm not sure," he said. "In the past I've had quite a few thoughts about what I'd do after my career. But honestly I'm just so excited and so focused on getting back on the field that I'm really not thinking a whole lot about after because I'm hoping I get to stay on the field for quite a while. So I'm honestly just really, really excited to get back on the field."
Watt was honored Monday night, along with Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, as Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year.
Along with returning to be the fearsome defender he once was for the Texans, Watt is also hoping he'll be invited back to an Astros game to throw out the ceremonial first pitch after his last try wasn't up to his lofty standards. In his first public appearance which came less than three weeks after his injury, Watt's throw before Game 3 of the World Series sailed a bit outside after he handed his crutches to his girlfriend and tossed it while balancing on his right leg.
"It was more frustrating that I missed the plate," he said. "So I put that one on myself. So no excuses even on crutches. So hopefully next year I can go back out there and throw one across the plate."
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