Over the years in the world of sports, there has been a long tradition of great NFL stars that have excelled in both football and wrestling at some point in their careers. Some, with impressive wrestling credentials and others, affiliated with wrestling at a younger age. Many tested their strength and determination against the skills of other competitive athletes in the ring, long before even considering a future in the NFL. There are eight Hall of Fame Footballers in Canton, Ohio, that are former, successful wrestlers. There is such a vast majority of great footballers that attribute their football achievements to their wrestling background and use it to an advantage when they are on the field.
Although making it in the world of NFL is tough, making it in the wrestling industry is even more difficult. However, some legendary NFL players that have gone down in history have made it in both. Each player, with individual experiences and outlooks on the sports, believe that if anything, the strength and agility gained from wrestling are skills that every footballer should have when considering a career in NFL.
Football and wrestling are more connected than most people realize, perhaps because of their extreme similarities. They both feature strong athletes, with an incredible determination to win. Life in the NFL and wrestling world has grown more closely than many know and continues to grow as athletes leave the mats and join an industry that takes football to a whole new level. Hall of Fame NFL coaches and honorary players continuously support the beneficial aspects that wrestling can have on football. Now, there have been endless legendary NFL stars that have proved that the relationship between football and wrestling is all too real. These players have proved to be not only a force on the field, but on the wrestling mat as well. Here are 20 NFL players that are former wrestlers.
20. Kelly Gregg
Kelly Gregg, who is now a radio personality, had been wrestling since middle school because of his solid build. The veteran, who was a championship wrestler in Oklahoma, attended Edmond North High-School, where he was both a standout footballer and wrestler. Gregg was a three-time state champion between 1993-1995 in the Heavyweight division and in the end, was named wrestler of the year. He channeled that ability into his football career as he had a solid college career at Oklahoma before becoming a solid contributor to the Ravens defense.
19. Fred Weary
Graduating from the University of Tennessee in 2001, Houston Texans’ Center Fred Weary spent his school years as a wrestling legend with an impressive trail of success on the school team. From 1994-1997, the NFL star was a three-time state Heavyweight champion and at the end of 1997, became his high-school’s All-American Heavyweight Wrestling Division champion. The footballer and former wrestler won Reno Tournament of Champions in the National Wrestling Tournament in 1997, before moving towards a career in NFL.
18. Warren Sapp
Hall of famer Warren Sapp played defensive tackle for thirteen years in the NFL. During his decorated career with the Buccaneers and Raiders, he made seven Pro Bowls, won Defensive Player of the Year and won a Super Bowl. However, before he became a force on the football field, Sapp spent his high school years as a talented wrestler, where the Pro Bowl defensive legend became a Florida State Champion on the wrestling mat.
17. Bob Breunig
Dallas Cowboys’ Bob Breunig admits that his success in football can be attributed to his experiences on the wrestling team at Alhambra High School in Phoenix. Breunig had a solid ten-year football career, as a three-time Pro-Bowl linebacker, however he strongly believes that his most important lesson came from wrestling. He was an undefeated wrestler in his Junior and Senior years, before getting eliminated in the first round of an important tournament. He remembered being cocky and how that loss helped him learn to be more humble. An important lesson that helped lead to an impressive pro career.
16. Carlton Haselrig
Carlton Haselrig, who played with the Steelers and Jets, wrestled for the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he was a three-time NCAA Champion. Haselrig, was drafted in the 12th round as a nose tackle in 1989, but quickly moved to right guard in 1991, where he made his single Pro Bowl appearance. While in college, the Pittsburgh star won NCAA Heavyweight championships from 1987-1989 in both Division I and Division II. One notable fact about Haselrig’s wrestling career is that he once beat future Olympic champion and WWE star Kurt Angle.
15. Ray Lewis
Pro Bowl Linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and state high-school wrestling champion in Florida, Ray Lewis proved to be a force on both the field and the wrestling mat. At 189 lbs while wrestling, Lewis won two high-school state wrestling titles and admits that wrestling gave him the skills to become one of the best footballers in NFL. After reaching the NFL, the wrestler-turned-NFL star was selected for 13 Pro Bowl teams, was named Defensive Player of the Year twice and won two Super Bowls.
14. Chad Hennings
Inducted into GTE Academic All- America Hall of Fame, Chad Hennings’ has a string of impressive sporting achievements attributed to his high-school wrestling career, where he became Iowa’s state champion. Despite all of this achievements in college, he dropped to the 11th round in the NFL Draft as teams were worried about his military commitments. After the 1991 Gulf War, he was released from the military and would go on to have a solid nine-year career with the Cowboys, the team that drafted him, where he won three Super Bowls.
13. Stefen Wisniewski
Coming for an NFL family, where his father Leo played for the Colts and his uncle Steve played for the Raiders, much was expected of Stefen Wisniewski. Coming through high school, he was highly touted as a guard, but he was also an integral part of his high school wrestling team. He then went to Penn State where he earned All-American honors before being scooped up by the Raiders in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He’s since joined the Jaguars, after three solid seasons with Oakland.
12. Tim Krumrie
NFL’s Tim Krumrie was a Wisconsin State Wrestling Champion when he attended high-school. Krumrie continued to use his wrestling skills as a defensive tackle at Wisconsin from 1979-1982, before being drafted by the Bengals in 1983. Krumrie had an impressive football career as a defensive tackle for the Bengals, making two Pro Bowl appearance and helping the Bengals make a Super Bowl appearance. He’s most remembered for the horrific leg injury he suffered during that Super Bowl appearance, where a national audience saw his leg snap.
11. Errict Rhett
Errict Rhett graduated from Florida in 1995 and in 2005 was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame. The NFL player has also been honored in the Broward County Wrestling Hall of Fame, where he claims that, “I still remember back to the days when I wrestled here. It probably did more for my life as an athlete than anything else.” Rhett, who was a two-time state champion and three-time Broward County champion for the McArthur Mustangs, lasted seven years in the NFL, with the Buccaneers, Ravens and Brows.
10. Jay Hilgenberg
Finishing sixth in the Iowa State High-School wrestling championships in 1976 and second in 1977, Jay Hilgenberg had a wrestling career that was a catalyst to his successes in NFL. During his football career, Hilgenberg was a seven-time Pro-Bowler, two-time First Team All Pro and had a 13 year career, that was mostly spent with Chicago. He was also a member of the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl winning team as their starting center.
9. Kevin Glover
Drafted in the second round of the 1985 NFL Draft out of Maryland, Kevin Glover was known for his ability to hold his own in the middle line. He played in three consecutive Pro Bowls from 1995-1997 and was one of the most respected and liked players in the NFL. Glover, who played for three years at Maryland, also dabbled in wrestling before deciding on football.
8. Roddy White
Roddy White, who is still with the team that drafted him (the Atlanta Falcons), claimed two state championships in South Carolina before leaving his impressive high-school wrestling career to become a footballer. Nonetheless, his skills merely assisted in getting him a place on the team at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. White is positive that the strength that he gained from his short wrestling career is constantly used to defeat press coverage on the field and attributes his NFL career to his impressive background in wrestling.
7. Ricky Williams
The 1998 Heisman Trophy Winner had an impressive college career at Texas, where Ricky Williams, along with his Heisman, was a consensus All-American twice and won numerous other awards. However, in high school, Ricky Williams was just as impressive on the wrestling mat as he was on the field and even had the chance to wrestle with another NFL superstar, Stephen Neal, who ended up becoming a NCAA Champion (and an entry on this list). Sadly for Williams, he lost to Neal.
6. Lorenzo Neal
A four-time Pro Bowler, Lorenzo Neal is also a two-time NCAA All-American and California State Wrestling Champion. The former fullback, before his sixteen season career, attended Lemoore High School in California, where he was a letterman in both football and wrestling. Neal went onto becoming a premier fullback in the NFL and one of the best players at a position that’s being less used every passing year.
5. Tiki Barber
Surprisingly, Tiki Barber not only has a history in football, but also in wrestling and track, which he took up in high school. The former New York Giants running back is a former successful wrestler at his hometown high-school in Roanoke, VA. In 1997, Barber was drafted in the second round of the 1997 NFL Draft and had several 1,000 yard seasons. Tiki’s twin, Ronde Barber, claims that on the junior high wrestling team, Tiki Barber excelled because of his heavier build and proudly acknowledges both of their district winning titles.
4. Riley Reiff
Not only was Riley Reiff the first-round pick for the Detroit Lions in 2012, but he was also one of the most dominating wrestlers in high school. Reiff collected three state titles in South Dakota, with a career record of 121- 1 and uses his wrestling skills to achieve great things on the field. He played tight end for his high school football team, until moving to the offensive line at the start of his freshman season. His strength and understanding of leverage are attributed to his time on the wrestling mat.
3. Jeff Bostic
The former Washington Redskin was a wrestling champion before turning to football in University. Jeff Bostic, whilst attending North Carolina high-school, became a State Champ. It wasn’t until his attendance at Clemson University where Bostic played college football, which secured his hopes of making it in the NFL. Bostic had a lengthy NFL career that spanned 14 years where he made one Pro Bowl appearance and won three Super Bowls. After his football career, the former NFL star has returned to wrestling as Head Coach of the Green Youth Wrestling Club.
2. Tedy Bruschi
Tedy Bruschi wrestled at Roseville high school before becoming the New England Patriots inside linebacker. During high school, Bruschi excelled in all sports, becoming letterman in football, wrestling, track and field. He went to Arizona University, where he focused on football and became a third round pick of the Patriots in 1996. He would become one of the faces of their franchise, along with Tom Brady and Ty Law, while leading his team to three Super Bowl titles.
1. Stephen Neal
Native Californian, Stephen Neal is possibly the most successful wrestler-turned-footballer in the NFL, excelling in many Heavyweight competitions; placing fourth in the California State Wrestling Championships for San Diego High-school, winning Junior National freestyle titles for his Californian team, and competing for Cal-State Bakersfield, which resulted in Neal becoming a two-time NCAA champion, three-time NCAA finalist and four-time NCAA All-American. Although the New England Patriots offensive lineman’s 10 year career has ended, this year the NFL football star has been named honorary chair of the 2015 Freestyle Wrestling World Cup.
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