A commonly held stigma throughout recent history – particularly during one’s more judgmental high school years – has been that actors cannot be jocks. Although some thespians fit the mold that has generated such a misconstrued thought process, many have shown it to be an outright lie.
These 15 celebrities, almost all of whom are actors, played well enough to take the collegiate athletic field or court. Some displayed talent but joined abysmal teams, a few cut their careers short after injury, and the others simply failed due to skill. For whatever reason, the following individuals left the sports world – their decision is ultimately why we know them today.
For every Terry Crews, who played in the NFL between 1991-1996 before pursuing an acting career, or Rick Fox, a man with three NBA championship rings and 49 IMDB acting credits, there is a Dr. Phil or Joel McHale.
To find out what struggles the selected individuals faced during their college years, continue reading below. Feel free to comment with other stories of surprise celebrity athletes. Without further ado, here are 15 Celebrities Who Failed at College Sports.
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15 Burt Reynolds
Burt Reynolds didn’t fail at college sports. His body failed him. He attended Florida State University as a halfback on a football scholarship in the 1950’s. He actually roomed with Lee Corso. Reynolds flashed promise as a freshman, but injured his knee and missed the next season due to surgery. A car accident reaggrevated his injury a year later. The second ailment led to the end of Reynolds’ football career. He thrived in his second calling, acting. Of his 183 acting credits, Reynolds is most well known for Smokey and the Bandit, Deliverance, The Longest Yard, and Boogie Nights. He has been nominated for one Academy Award – Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Boogie Nights). Reynolds has also won two Golden Globes and has been nominated for five more. Florida State inducted him into their Hall of Fame in 1977.
14 Matthew Fox
Most famous for his depiction of Dr. Jack Shephard in the hit television show, Lost, Matthew Fox also leaned on his experience as a college football player when he acted in 2006’s We Are Marshall. Fox joined Columbia’s football team as a gritty wide receiver in 1985. The team had not won a game since October 1983. Columbia went a combined 0-30 in Matthew Fox’s first three years on the team. The team eventually stretched the losing streak to 44 games, at the time an NCAA record. Finally, Fox’s team finally defeated Princeton, which was quarterbacked by Jason Garrett, 16-13. That matchup saw a Matthew Fox touchdown called back, but the victory called for celebration nonetheless. Fox ended his collegiate career with a 2-38 team record. He wisely turned his back on the sport in favor of modeling and acting.
13 James Caan
James Caan is another actor who used his former college football days inspiration in art. After playing college football at Michigan State, James Caan enjoyed a tremendous acting career. He played Brian Piccolo, a terminally ill football player for the Chicago Bears, in the TV movie Brian’s Song. Caan earned an Emmy nomination. He rose to fame and received an Oscar nomination for his role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. Caan remains an active actor today, and his filmography includes The Gambler, Funny Lady, Misery, and Elf. His football career pales in comparison. Caan came to Michigan State in 1956. During a return trip to MSU in the 1970’s, Caan was asked what position he played. He replied, “Tackling dummy. They sent me home in a box.”
12 John Wayne
Of course John Wayne played football in college. The man’s man named Marion attended USC on a football scholarship. He served as an offensive lineman for two seasons. Shortly after the beginning of his junior year, Wayne fractured his collarbone while body surfing. His injury cost him his scholarship and led to his departure from USC. Wayne provided grunt work for movie studios such as Fox and eventually earned a role in its 1930 epic western, The Big Trail. The film, like most of Wayne’s early efforts, was a failure. In time, the Duke found his footing. He became – and still remains – one of the most beloved movie stars in American cinema history. Wayne starred in classics such as The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Rio Bravo and Stagecoach. He earned his only Oscar for True Grit and passed away in 1979.
11 Paul Wight Jr.
Paul Wight, also known as The Big Show, played basketball at Wichita State during the 1991-1992 season. He rarely made it off the bench. When he did, Wight didn’t exactly shine. He averaged 2.0 points and 2.1 rebounds a game over the course of 21 games. Wight admits he started out thinking of a career in the NBA, but he now travels the world as a WWE superstar. He peaked as a young college player and failed to earn playing time due to his self-admitted arrogance and reluctance to adapt to balanced team play. The same traits, along with his height and weight, contributed to Wight becoming a WWE champion in the career he was always meant for.
10 Channing Tatum
Channing Tatum was voted his high school’s most athletic student and excelled in track and football. He accepted a football scholarship at Glenville State College in West Virginia. Tatum quickly lost the love for football and only played to maintain his financial support. His disinterest in the sport eventually led to Tatum dropping out. He moved back home to Florida and held a series of odd jobs, even stripping before he found success as a model. The modeling eventually turned into acting, where Tatum has made a name for himself in the revived 21 Jump Street franchise and a slew of other films. It’s no secret that many moviegoers doubt his acting skills. The money he makes and his continued success, however, suggests Tatum made the right choice.
9 Craig Kilborn
Craig Kilborn’s celebrity flame had dwindled in recent years, but he had a successful television run in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. At 6’5”, Kilborn also played college basketball for Montana State from 1981-1984. One year, Kilborn pledged to lead the team to a sweet sixteen birth. Montana State finished fourth in the Big Sky, but Kilborn did pace the league in turnovers. He managed this despite missing time with a groin injury. Kilborn went on to host SportCenter. His wit and personality influenced the way sportscasters present highlights even today. Following SportCenter, Kilborn hosted The Daily Show before Jon Stewart elevated the program to what it is today. He then moved on to The Late Late Show. Again, Kilborn was arguably outdone by his successor, Craig Ferguson. The Montana State product also acted in Old School and The Benchwarmers.
8 Phil Robertson
Before Phil Robertson earned millions of dollars with his show, Duck Dynasty, he played quarterback at Louisiana Tech. He actually attended a year before Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw and remained ahead of him on the depth chart for two seasons. Robertson may have had the ability to go pro, but his love of hunting far outweighed his affinity for football. Regardless, his stats are not exemplary. He went 8-20 as a starter with 12 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. Robertson elected not to play his senior year. He predictably hunted instead. Although Robertson played ahead of an all-time great and has seen remarkable success in reality television, he’s faced more difficulty when discussing political views. A&E indefinitely suspended Robertson from the show in 2013 after he made anti-gay remarks in a GQ interview. Public backlash caused the network to lift his ban after nine days.
7 Josh Duhamel
Josh Duhamel played quarterback at his local college, Minot State University. It became evident that he would not make a professional career out of football, so Duhamel set his sights on dental school. He then dropped out just short of an undergraduate degree. Duhamel relocated to California. The International Modeling and Talent Association named him the 1997 Male Model of the Year. He beat out runner-up Ashton Kutcher. Derek Zoolander likely finished third, but this is unconfirmed. Duhamel pursued acting and landed a role on the soap opera, All My Children. He also starred alongside James Caan in Las Vegas. Duhamel remains active today. The actor is set to make his fourth appearance in the Transformers franchise in 2017. He has also been nominated for five Teen Choice Awards during his career.
6 Forest Whitaker
The most accomplished actor on this list, Forest Whitaker played for the Cal Poly Pomona football team at the end of the 1970s. A back injury forced him to give up the sport and lose his scholarship. He changed his major to music and became a member of the Cal Poly Chamber Singers. Whitaker eventually transferred and finished his college education at USC. The Cal Poly football program only outlasted Forest by a few years. It disbanded in 1982 after 35 years of competition. One of Whitaker’s first roles involved being the ferocious football player, Charles Jefferson, in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. He went on to act in Platoon, Phone Booth and The Butler. He won an Oscar for his portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. More recently, Whitaker has appeared in Arrival. He plays Saw Gerrera in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which released December 16th.
5 Bill Cosby
For decades, Bill Cosby seemed like the dad so many Americans wanted. After a recent slew of sexual assault allegations came to light, it seems no one wants him around at all – nor should they. Almost everyone is distancing themselves from the comedic actor. Temple, however, his Alma Mater, continues to stand by Cosby’s side. He attended Temple University on a track & field scholarship and also lettered in football. Although Cosby succeeded in track, his football skills left much to be desired. Without the measurables to perform as a lead running back, Cosby was relegated to blocking duty during his two years with the team. He quit football in order to pursue show business. Cosby is most famous for his long-running sitcom, The Cosby Show. He received the 1982 NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award, which is bestowed to a former varsity athlete who is a distinguished citizen of national reputation. Temple also inducted Cosby into its athletics Hall of Fame in 1984. The decision can be attributed more to his acting success than his prowess in collegiate sports.
4 Nick Nolte
Nick Nolte didn’t fail at college sports in the way many on this list did. It wasn’t that he rode the bench, suffered from an injury or played poorly. Nick Nolte literally failed. After receiving a scholarship to play football at Arizona State, Nolte was expelled for academic reasons. He failed too many classes. Nolte attempted to revive his football career with several community colleges, but he ultimately sought a different path. He began studying at the Pasadena Playhouse with the goal of becoming an actor. His breakthrough came in the 1976 miniseries, Rich Man, Poor Man. His performance earned him an Emmy nomination. Nolte turned the performance into roles in The Deep and the football film North Dallas Forty. Nolte struggled through the years with alcohol and drug problems, but his career has stil produced a number of fantastic films. Most notably, he starred in Thin Red Line and Cape Fear.
3 Dr. Phil
Phil McGraw, more widely known as Dr. Phil, played middle linebacker at the University of Tulsa. He also spent time at tight end. It’s an absurd thought. Tulsa saw enough in McGraw to offer him a scholarship. In an alternate universe far far away, someone might have picked Dr. Phil in a fantasy draft. However, we live in a much different reality. McGraw played only one year of college football, but he made the most of it. As a freshman, he took part in one the craziest, most epic fails in NCAA history. The 1968 Houston-Tulsa matchup looked like a blowout at halftime, albeit a moderately respectable one. Houston led 24-0 at halftime. Tulsa showed their potential for a comeback by scoring on the first possession of the third quarter. That supposed potential turned out to be a miserable lie. The kicker missed the extra point. Houston scored 76 straight points and cracked the century mark in a 100-6 victory. Dr. Phil transferred to Midwestern State University the following year.
2 Joel McHale
Joel McHale originally attended Washington University as a member of their crew team. In his own words, he explained that the Crew team made up for a lack of crowd support by being assholes. Their endless hazing convinced McHale to quit and try his hand as a football walk-on. Washington had won a share of the National Championship the previous year, so he took the necessary steps to join the squad – McHale lied. He hadn’t played football since his freshman year of high school. He told the coach an injury his senior year kept him under the radar. McHale became a practice squad member, spending his days as a practice dummy for future NFL players. McHale quit after his sophomore year when he booked a national commercial. He’s known for The Soup and Community. More recently, McHale starred in The Great Indoors on CBS. Most viewers likely skipped that one.
1 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Before Dwayne Johnson was The Rock, he was known as “Dewey” to his University of Miami teammates. At this point, it is important to clarify that failure is relative. His goal was to start for the U. Starters at Miami usually possess the dream of making it to the NFL. Am I saying failure is relative because my bones can’t afford to make The Rock mad? Yes. Am I also saying it because it’s true? Yes. Dwayne Johnson served as a backup on the 1991 National Championship team. He was buried on the depth chart (behind Hall of Famer Warren Sapp) due to the Miami’s astonishing talent. Over the course of his four-year career, Johnson started only once and appeared in 39 games with 77 tackles and 4.25 sacks. He joined the CFL after graduation but the Calgary Stampedes cut him two months into the season. The world is better off because of it. Johnson rose to superstardom in the WWE and turned his success into a lucrative movie career. As of this writing, he has eight new films currently announced, filming or in post-production. He remains active in the wrestling community. Dwayne Johnson is a busy star, but it’s not because of his college football career.
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