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23 Celebrities Who Played College Football

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  • Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (Miami [FL] DE)

    Long before they achieved stardom in the entertainment industry, a handful of well-known celebrities dreamed of stardom on the college gridiron. Here are 23 of them.

    Johnson made his way to Coral Gables by way of Bethlehem, PA, and was a member of the Hurricanes’ 1991 national championship team. An injury later led to him being replaced by future Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, but Johnson wasn’t bitter. In fact, the former WWE wrestler and movie star’s name now graces the name of Miami’s locker room.

  • John Wayne (USC OT)

    After breaking his collarbone in a bodysurfing accident, Wayne - real name, Marion Morrison - lost his football scholarship with the Trojans, leading him to seek out work in the local film studios. College football’s loss would later be cinema’s big, big gain.

  • Burt Reynolds (Florida State HB)

    A onetime roommate of Lee Corso in Tallahassee, Reynolds’ college career was derailed before it could begin in earnest; he sustained an injury in the first game of his freshman season, one that was later aggravated by a car accident. After which he left FSU and started taking acting classes at a community college near his native Palm Beach.

  • Ed O’Neill (Youngstown State DL)

    Turns out O’Neill could relate to Al Bundy’s nostalgia toward former football glory on “Married With Children.” O’Neill spent two years on scholarship at Ohio University before finishing his college career at hometown Youngstown State, where he was among the first students in the school’s then-fledgling theater program.

  • James Caan (Michigan State QB)

    Caan - who later played the titular Brian Piccolo in “Brian’s Song” - was a quarterback on the Spartans’ freshman team before transferring back home to Hofstra. Although when asked in 1998 by MSU’s Alumni Magazine what position he really played, Caan joked, “Tackling dummy.”

  • Joel McHale (Washington TE)

    Originally recruited by his hometown Huskies as a rower, the future “Community” star and host of The Soup finagled his way onto the UW football team just a few seasons removed from its 1991 national title. “I became big enough and fast enough that I was able to fool them,” he told The Washington Post in 2005. “It just shows you: If you have a dream, just lie about it. Lie your way unto your dreams.”

  • Dean Cain (Princeton DB)

    Offered scholarships to 17 schools out of Santa Monica (CA) High, Cain had 22 interceptions in his Tigers career and signed as a UFA with the Buffalo Bills in 1988. A knee injury sustained in training camp ended his football career but began his acting one.

  • Ronald Reagan (Eureka [IL] G)

    Nicknamed throughout his adult life “The Gipper” for his 1940 portrayal of Notre Dame star George Gipp in Knute Rockne: All American, Reagan didn’t just excel on the gridiron at Eureka College. The future U.S president was also a cheerleader and captained the swim team.

  • Brian Dennehy (Columbia OL)

    Dennehy’s place on the Lions’ football team prevented him from pursuing his true dream: Joining the Columbia Players’ acting group. “In those days, the Players had an artistic definition of themselves which didn’t allow a football player to be active,” Dennehy later told Columbia College Today. “I remember going up there a few times and distinctly feeling unwelcome.”

  • Matthew Fox (Columbia WR)

    Had he so chosen, Fox could’ve drawn from his difficult college football career for method acting material while portraying Jack Shephard on “Lost.” He endured a 33-game losing streak to begin his career (part of a 45-game skid overall) before helping the Lions squeak out a pair of victories as a senior to finish 2-38 over his four years.

  • Carl Weathers (San Diego State LB)

    Unlike most of the former football players on this list, Weathers had a substantial career after college as well, spending parts of two seasons with the Oakland Raiders and three with the CFL’s British Columbia Lions. Which explains why he was so cut for his star turn as Apollo Creed in the first Rocky movie in 1976.

  • Josh Duhamel (Minot [ND] State QB)

    Relegated to backup duties with the Beavers, Duhamel realized the hard way that his pro football dreams were just that. “Two different coaches told me I didn’t have it, and even today it still bothers me,” Duhamel told the Chicago Tribune in 2003. “As much as I hated them at the time, it made me a better person…”

  • Tommy Lee Jones (Harvard OL)

    An upperclassmen roommate of future U.S. vice president Al Gore, Jones was a First Team All-Ivy selection on the Crimson’s 1968 undefeated team. His final collegiate game was the famous 29-29 comeback tie against archival Yale.

  • Mark Harmon (UCLA QB)

    The son of former Michigan star halfback and 1940 Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon, the future “NCIS” star’s career at UCLA had its fair share of memorable moments. Most notably his first game with the Bruins, during which he engineered a 20-17 upset of top-ranked and two-time defending national champion Nebraska.

  • John Goodman (Missouri State OL)

    Goodman’s football career at what was then Southwest Missouri State in the early 1970s was cut short by injury. “That was the bad news,” school president Clif Smart told the school’s alumni magazine earlier this year. “The good news for all of us was that he changed his major to drama.” Coincidentally, Goodman later played an offensive lineman on the big screen alongside Dennis Quaid in Everybody’s All-American.

  • Forest Whitaker (Cal Poly Pomona DT)

    A debilitating back injury brought an end to Whitaker’s football career, leading him to eventually transfer to USC’s performing arts program. Naturally, the future Oscar winner’s breakout role was as havoc-wreaking football player Charles Jefferson in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

  • Suge Knight (UNLV DT)

    The co-founder and former CEO of Death Row Records was a football star at Lynwood (CA) High School before spending two years at UNLV. During the 1987 NFL players’ strike, Knight saw action in two games for the Los Angeles Rams.

  • Bill Cosby (Temple FB)

    Cosby was by no means a football star for the Owls, but he did develop a skill that every decent fullback needs. “There is only one thing I can do, that is throw a cross-body block,” he told The New York Times in 2010. “Picture perfect. I love it.”

  • ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin (North Texas FB)

    Despite blowing out the ligaments in one of his knees during his senior season with the Mean Green, Austin saw action in all 11 games. Perhaps seeking something just as physical yet a little less punishing, he soon after pursued what would be a wildly successful pro wrestling career.

  • Bill Goldberg (Georgia DT)

    A two-time All-SEC performer with the Bulldogs, Goldberg’s NFL career - which he spent with three different teams from 1990-1995 - was derailed by an injury to his abdomen. It was while rehabbing the injury that he drew the attention of pro wrestlers Lex Luger and Sting, who encouraged him to join them in pro wrestling.

  • Ed Marinaro (Cornell RB)

    No other player on this list boasts anything close to the gridiron accolades of the former “Hill Street Blues” star. Marinaro was the first running back in NCAA history to rush for 4,000 career yards and finished second to Auburn QB Pat Sullivan in the 1971 Heisman Trophy voting before spending six seasons in the NFL. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.

  • Rob Brown (Amherst WR)

    Brown’s first big-screen exposure was actually as a basketball player, in both 2000’s Finding Forrester and 2005’s Coach Carter. The year that he graduated from Amherst, in 2008, Brown finally put his gridiron experience to use on the big screen by playing Syracuse RB Ernie Davis in The Express.

  • Kenny Mayne (UNLV QB)

    ​Backing up future NFL star Randall Cunningham on the Rebels’ depth chart for part of the early 1980s was future ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne. A 1978 JuCo All-American at Wenatchee (WA) Valley College, Mayne later signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks.

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