Central Michigan Athletics J.J Watt, Antonio Brown At Central Michigan

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt played on the same offense together in college in 2007.

"That's crazy," said Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant, "two great players on the same team."

Antonio Brown At Central Michigan

It's a fun fact, but it's one that Bryant and others of Brown's current teammates didn't know until now: One of the best skill players in the NFL, Brown, played wide receiver for Central Michigan from 2007 to 2009, and one of the best defensive players, Watt, played tight end on the same squad for a season.

Watt has joked about the two combining for 1,000 receiving yards, and, though not BFFs, Brown said they still text or talk "all the time."

"They were definitely friendly," said Dan LeFevour, the Central Michigan quarterback from 2006 to 2009. "I don't think they lived together or anything. They got along well."

While still at Pewaukee High in Wisconsin, Watt regularly visited the Central Michigan campus, and LeFevour hosted him. But that recruiting visit didn't include any juicy exploits or college-age shenanigans.

"He was never the partier, a big drinker or anything," LeFevour said. "He was always focused on football. J.J. was very mature for his age."

Watt was emotionally mature but had room to grow physically. The 6-5 tight end's frame looked much skinnier at 255 pounds, which is about 40 pounds less than he weighs now.

Watt played tight end in high school, and Central Michigan had no one else capable at the position. So as a true freshman, he played in all 14 games and caught eight passes for 77 yards in 2007. Central Michigan ran a spread offense, which minimized the role of its tight ends.

J.J. Watt On Central Michigan

"It would've been hard to stand out," said LeFevour, a sixth-round draft pick of the Bears who now plays for the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers. "He could've been an NFL tight end … He had good hands. I mean, he caught the ball well. I think that's why it was probably so frustrating that he wasn't getting a ton of catches."

Watt, who caught three touchdown passes for the Texans in 2014, has showcased those receiving skills in the NFL. But the obvious question is: How could Central Michigan have not played the eventual three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year on that side of the ball?

"I know we talked about moving him to offensive or defensive line," LeFevour said. "I'm not sure how exactly that conversation went. You'll have to ask Butch Jones."

Jones, the Central Michigan coach from 2007 to 2009 who is now at Tennessee, declined an interview request from ThePostGame.

After a year at Central Michigan under Jones, Watt transferred to Wisconsin, walked on, moved to the defensive line and became a consensus first-team All-Big Ten player. The Texans selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Inexplicably, Brown also had to walk on. He may have been an unranked recruit, according to recruiting websites like Rivals.com, but Brown impressed Watt as soon as he saw him run.

"Antonio -- without warming up or anything -- blew by literally everybody on the field," Watt told ThePostGame via email. "Just from that moment, I knew he was going to be a pretty good one."

Antonio Brown On Central Michigan

Other Central Michigan teammates began to notice Brown during the video review from early practices, where he juked defenders with his ankle-breaking cuts. He would demonstrate those same skills during the second game of the year when he broke several tackles on a punt return into Toledo field-goal range.

"I'm like, 'who is this guy?'" LeFevour said.

That guy was named MAC Freshman of the Year, All-MAC first team as a kick-return specialist and All-MAC second team as a receiver while setting a then-bowl subdivision freshman record with 2,267 all-purpose yards. Beyond his stats, what stood out about Brown was his work ethic and fiery competitiveness.

"He wouldn't back down from anyone," LeFevour said. "Nothing would ever intimidate him."

That attitude helped him excel when Central Michigan faced Clemson once and Purdue twice in 2007.

Antonio Brown

On Friday nights during the winter when their teammates and fellow students were getting ready to go out, Brown would sometimes call LeFevour around 8 p.m. because he wanted to catch passes. They would head to the Central Michigan indoor facility and put on helmets.

"I've never seen a guy work harder than him in practice," LeFevour said.

When Brown did go out -- including during an offseason excursion with LeFevour -- football was always at the forefront. At an Iowa City bar, Brown ran into a Hawkeyes defensive back. Brown wanted to run routes against him, but the Iowa player declined because he was just trying to enjoy the night.

Watt was also relentless. During off days in the summer, he organized running sessions for the freshman class.

"He's a leader since his first days to campus," Brown said, "when he got the guys ... together to run in the stadium."

In the lone season Watt and Brown were together, Central Michigan finished 8-6, losing 51-48 to Purdue in the Motor City Bowl. LeFevour, who threw for 12,905 yards and 102 touchdowns and also ran for 2,948 yards and 47 touchdowns during his four years, earned the first of this two MAC Offensive Player of the Year awards. In the bowl game, Brown caught four passes for 94 yards, and Watt caught one for five.

J.J. Watt

While Watt went on to star at Wisconsin, Brown finished his Central Michigan career first in school history in  receptions (305), second in touchdown catches (22) and third in receiving yards (3,199).

He entered the draft after his junior season in 2009. Despite those impressive statistics and running a reported 4.56 in the 40 at the NFL Combine -- and faster at his pro day -- Brown fell to the sixth round in the 2010 draft. Brown likely slid because he was small (5-10, 186 pounds), played at a small school and only played the slot position.

"Pittsburgh got a steal," LeFevour said. "That's for sure."

Brown has exceeded 100 receptions and 1,250 receiving yards for four straight seasons with the Steelers.

Watt's NFL stats have been just as prodigious. He had at least 10.5 sacks each of the last four years before suffering a season-ending back injury in 2016.

After Brown signed a five-year, $73-million contract with the Steelers in February, Watt made reference to their Central Michigan days in this tweet:


The Watt-Brown connection and friendship reached another level when Antonio's Steelers drafted J.J.'s brother, T.J., with the 30th overall pick in 2017. J.J. joked to the press that he texted Brown to "haze him a little extra for me."

No such hazing, though, actually took place.

"It was just kind of poking fun at their friendship," said linebacker T.J. Watt.

T.J.'s presence on the Steelers actually strengthened the bond between J.J. Watt and Brown, which was forged in their year together at Central Michigan.

"We still talk all the time," J.J. Watt said, "especially with my brother being on the team. I told him to look out for my brother and make sure he's doing well."

-- Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.

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