CYPRESS TEXAS — It started with Moore Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Malinda Ross wanting to combine her favorite Houston Texans football player with the 99th day of the school year. So she invited her students to join her in wearing their JJ Watt jerseys.
It ended with Watt, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and one of the sport’s most recognizable faces, walking the halls at Moore, stopping for a few photos himself after he surprised a student who went the extra mile to recognize the day.
Watt went to Moore to surprise Brock Givens, a fourth-grade student in Ross’ class who didn’t have a No. 99 shirt or jersey – at least not until Feb. 13. Showing up by himself and unannounced to everyone except Ross, Watt hand-delivered two jerseys.
Moore Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Malinda Ross (left) poses with students Brock Givens (middle) and Addison Hicks with No. 99 jerseys to recognize the 99th day of the school year. A fan of Houston Texans’ star JJ Watt, Ross asked her students to join her in wearing Watt’s No. 99 jersey. Givens didn’t have one but made one with help from his mother. Watt saw the photo on Twitter and personally delivered two jerseys to Givens on Feb. 13.
Givens’ first thought upon seeing Watt?
“Dang, he’s tall,” Givens said of his reaction to the 6-foot-5, 295-pound defensive lineman.
Even Ross, who went back and forth with Watt over social media to coordinate the surprise, had few words.
“I just could not believe he was really here,” Ross said. “I was speechless.”
She admits that she never thought a post on Twitter would end up like this. Like many other teachers and schools across CFISD, Ross wanted to acknowledge the 99th day of school on Feb. 5. Others did the same the next day for No. 100.
Ross sent a message to her class of the occasion, asking anyone who had Watt’s No. 99 jersey to wear it.
Givens didn’t have one.
“I asked my mom if she could help me,” he said.
The end result was a No. 99 cut from paper and pinned to Givens’ shirt.
“I thought it was creative,” Ross said. “And of course, I wanted to get a picture with anyone who came in with one. He had the No. 99 on so I brought him into the picture.”
Joining Ross and Givens was fellow fourth-grade student Addison Hicks, who wore her blue Watt jersey to go alongside Ross’ white jersey and Givens’ blue version.
Ross sent out the tweet: “99th day of school @MooreCFISD! Any excuse to wear @JJWatt jerseys and jeans! #bemoore”
Like many public figures and celebrities, Watt is routinely tagged in social posts. Many go unanswered.
“I get five likes most of the time and I thought, ‘There’s no way JJ’s going to respond,’” Ross said. “It fit in with the sentence that I wrote. But the response was four minutes after I sent it – I saw that he re-tweeted it. I was shocked.”
Watt, who has more than 5.4 million followers on Twitter, shared the photo along with his response: “My man in the middle making the extra effort! DM me an address and I’ll make sure we get him a real jersey! Hope everybody over there has a great 99th day of school!”
Ross’ tweet has 52 retweets and 1,371 likes as of Feb. 15. Watt’s response, which includes the original post, has nearly 5,500 retweets and more than 50,000 likes.
Upon hearing the news, Givens threw his arms up in excitement. He’s a big basketball fan – Houston Rockets’ star James Harden is his favorite player – but he also roots for Watt.
Watt’s fame hasn’t grown simply through his play on the football field but also his acts of kindness and humanitarian efforts. Most notably is the fund raising effort he spearheaded that totaled more than $41 million for relief and recovery after Hurricane Harvey.
Once the date was decided, Watt made his way to Moore. He rang the buzzer at the front entrance like any other visitor and registrar Tami Biles escorted Watt to Ross’ class.
“I thought I was in a dream,” said Biles, a Texans and Watt fan herself. “It was awesome.”
Watt and Givens spoke while the All-Pro defender signed the second jersey he brought – an authentic, on-field version featuring patches representing Watt being named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2018 and former Texans owner Bob McNair, who passed away in November. The two then posed for photos, which Watt shared on Twitter.
“We were able to find our man from last week! Now he has a couple jerseys of his own to choose from and I have a new friend named Brock,” Watt wrote.
As Biles and Watt walked back toward the front, he was stopped by other students and staff members, spending a few moments with each. He also commented to Biles on the campus’ beauty, and was shocked when Biles told him of the flooding Moore suffered after Harvey and the year the school was displaced while a replacement was constructed.
“He was very nice,” Biles said. “You could tell he was [all] about the kids.”
Givens, who made sure to thank his mom when he got home, said Watt was a cool guy.
Added Ross: “I was just very impressed and very thankful that he would take the time. I’m sure he’s busy, but he took the time to come out here and deliver it in person. That’s pretty amazing.”
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