When J.J. Watt arrived at Wisconsin, turning down his scholarship and potential starting tight end spot by transferring from Central Michigan, he was 6-foot-5 and rail thin. “One of those blow-up things at a car dealership,” in his own words.
Watt walked on at Wisconsin, redshirting during his sophomore season in Madison in 2008, but he was living his dream. He always wanted to play at Wisconsin, and while he wasn’t able to continue as a tight end, his work with one man above all else helped him achieve his dream.
Charlie Partridge had just arrived at Wisconsin, accepting the defensive line coach/special teams coordinator position under head coach Bret Bielema. After five seasons at Pitt in various roles, he arrived in Madison to tutor the defensive linemen. And with a young, raw talent named J.J. in need of some help, Partridge rose to the challenge.
“Every day during spring practice, during training camp, I would go up to that office … that was Charlie Partridge’s office, my defensive line coach,” Watt said. “I had switched over from tight end to defensive line, every night at 10 p.m., after he was done with the starters, after he was done with his coaches’ meetings, long after everyone went home, coach Partridge would go over my scout team film with me. He would show me where I should place my hands, how my foot work should look, what to look for in opposing offenses. He taught me how to play defensive line.”
"Don’t measure a coach’s success by where his best players end up… anyone can take credit for a naturally gifted superstar, but how do they develop and support the rest of the team as athletes and people?" @kateleavell@JJWatt @CoachPartridge pic.twitter.com/QOLGzsXuYG
— The Winning Difference (@thewinningdiff1) July 18, 2022
Watt earned Wisconsin’s Scout Team Player of the Year award during his redshirt season before he emerged as one of the best defensive linemen in college football. In two seasons, he racked up 106 tackles (74 solo), 36.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, an interception and five pass breakups.
“Don’t measure a coach’s success by where his best players end up… anyone can take credit for a naturally gifted superstar, but how do they develop and support the rest of the team as athletes and people?”
Watt, of course, developed into one of the best defenders in NFL history, after being selected by the Houston Texans with the 11th selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. With three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, six All-Pro nominations and over 100 career sacks, he’s been impactful on the field, but his 2017 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award shows his impact off the field as well.
Partridge would spend a handful of seasons at Wisconsin, rising to associate head coach/defensive coordinator, before following Bielema to Arkansas for one season in 2013. Following a three-year stint as the head coach of Florida Atlantic, Partridge returned to Pitt.
Since arriving at Pitt, serving as associate head coach/defensive line coach, Partridge has helped the likes of Rashad Weaver, Patrick Jones, Jaylen Twyman and is currently mentoring Calijah Kancey, Habakkuk Baldonado and Pitt’s defensive line to the same level.
In addition to Partridge’s status as one of the very best defensive line coaches in college football, he’s also one of the key recruiters on Pitt’s staff. And, of course, he’s made lasting impacts on the lives of countless young men he’s coached over the years.