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30 Celebrities Who Played College Football

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  • 1. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (Miami 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.

  • 2. Channing Tatum (Glenville State)

    If Tatum looked like a natural playing college football on screen in 22 Jump Street, it’s because he is. Tatum is an Alabama fan, but attended Glenville State College in West Virginia on a football scholarship during his college years.

  • 3. 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.”

  • 4. 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 after being a 1978 JuCo All-American at Wenatchee (WA) Valley College. Mayne later signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks.

  • 5. 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.

  • 6. 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…”

  • 7. 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.

  • 8. Phil Robertson (Louisiana Tech QB)

    The “Duck Dynasty” patriarch was unsuccessful as a QB at Louisiana Tech, not like the guy who followed — Terry Bradshaw — did him any favors. After creating a duck hunting empire and starring in a wildly popular TV show, Robertson’s done alright for himself since.​

  • 9. Ed O’Neill (Youngstown State DL)

    Now a star on “Modern Family,” O’Neill spent two years on scholarship at Ohio University before finishing his college career at hometown Youngstown State, where he was a defensive lineman and among the first students in the school’s then-fledgling theater program.

  • 10. Phil McGraw (Tulsa LB)

    ​Before he was Oprah’s BFF and America’s foremost self-help guru, Dr. Phil played linebacker at Tulsa during the late 1960s. It must’ve been nice for all his teammates to have someone to talk to after they lost to Houston, 100-6, in November of 1968.

  • 11. 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.

  • 12. 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.”

  • 13. 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.

  • 14. James Caan (Michigan State QB)

    Caan - who later played 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.”

  • 15. Isaiah Mustafa (Arizona State WR)

    ​You might not know him by name, but you definitely know him by face and voice. Thanks to his uber popular (and funny) Old Spice commercials, Mustafa is one of the most celebrated pitchmen of all time. But before he shilled deodorant as the “Old Spice Guy,” he played wide receiver at Arizona State in the mid-1990s with Jake Plummer.

  • 16. 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.

  • 17. 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.

  • 18. 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. He left FSU and started taking acting classes at a community college near his native Palm Beach and the rest is history.

  • 19. Tommy Lee Jones (Harvard OL)

    A 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.

  • 20. 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 was his first game with the Bruins, during which he engineered a 20-17 upset of top-ranked and two-time defending national champion Nebraska.

  • 21. 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. Coincidentally, Goodman later played an offensive lineman on the big screen alongside Dennis Quaid in Everybody’s All-American.

  • 22. 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.

  • 23. Bill Cosby (Temple FB)

    The now-controversial 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.”

  • 24. "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 marginally less punishing, he soon after pursued what would be a wildly successful pro wrestling career.

  • 25. 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.

  • 26. 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.

  • 27. 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 as a college wideout to use on the big screen by playing Syracuse RB Ernie Davis in The Express.

  • 28. Gerald Ford (Michigan C)

    ​America’s 38th president anchored the Wolverines’ offensive line in the early-1930s, lettering from ‘32-‘34. Ford had offers from several pro teams including the Lions and Packers, but opted to attend law school at Yale instead. That was probably for the best.

  • 29. Nick Nolte (Arizona State TE/DE)

    Nolte went to Arizona State on a football scholarship and also played for the Sun Devils’ basketball and baseball teams. Unfortunately his athletic career was cut short when he was expelled from ASU for academic reasons.​

  • 30. Terry Crews (Western Michigan DE)

    Crews’ comedic chops as Sgt. Terry Jeffords on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” seem so effortless, it’s hard to think he was born for anything else. Then of course you take one look at his frame and understand his past in football completely.​ Crews led WMU to a MAC championship in 1988 and spent time in the NFL with four teams.

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