This may be hard to believe, but not everyone who is famous now has always been famous. Kim Kardashian wasn’t born famous for contributing absolutely nothing to society, it only seems that way. Before these good looking men and women became famous actors or singers, or whatever the hell the aforementioned Kim K. is supposed to be, they were regular people like you and me.
A lot of regular people play sports, as have many celebrities. A lot of celebs didn’t always want to be actors or models, some of them had dreams of being big sports stars. Life has a funny way of diverting us from our dreams and taking us down new paths, or something like that.
When doing research for this article, I was mostly confused. Many of the allegedly famous celebrities who played high school sports are people I’ve never heard of. I don’t know if that says more about me or these celebrities, but they’re all more famous than me at any rate. I might know Lil Bow Wow from his time working with Nickelodeon in the 90s, but does anyone else? Dean Cain played basketball, great, but does anyone know he played Superman once? Do they care? Get ready for the usual celebrity stand-bys such as George Clooney and Tom Cruise, assuming they’re still relevant.
Still, whether they played basketball, soccer, football, or lacrosse (no one on this list played lacrosse), many of the athletes turned celebrities on this list were great back in their time. Isn’t it great how we know every aspect of the lives of people who star in movies we kinda like? Here’s our list of the Top 15 celebrities you didn’t know were high school athletes.
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15 Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise is famous still, right? He might still have been famous if he stuck with athletics, because he was pretty good at it. He attended several schools growing up, as his parents were constantly moving, which gave Cruise a chance to try new things. He starred in football, soccer, and wrestling throughout high school.
He was injured in a wrestling match and had to miss some time. He got bored, so he decided to try out for a play the drama team was putting on. He got the part, and decided to go on to acting, and jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch.
Its likely Cruise got the part in All The Right Moves, a movie about a high school football player, because he was only 20 when the movie was shot, three years removed from actually being a high school football player himself. Who would have thought a scrawny pretty boy could be such a star athlete?
14 Nina Dobrev
Nina Dobrev, from all those movies and TV shows you never heard of, was an elite Gymnast who came close to competing in the Olympics when she was still in high school.
For starters, she played soccer, basketball, flag football, and baseball on the men’s varsity teams. She also played on the girls’ varsity Volleyball team as well, but probably only because there was no boys team. Her true passion, however, was gymnastics. While attending high school in Canada, she traveled to Europe multiple times with the team to complete in competitions. If you’re wondering how serious the gymnastic teams was, know that one of her teammates made the Olympics.
She attended high school at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts, which is apparently a high school. Though, if you’re like me, you’re surprised that Canadian high schools play American football at all.
13 Mark Harmon
Harmon, star of CBS’s NCIS, might be old now, but believe it or not, old people were once young. Crazy, huh? In his high school days for example, he was an incredible football player. He’s the son of Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon, who put him on the path of athletics at a young age. At Harvard’s Schools for Boys, yes that was a high school as well, Harmon played baseball, but excelled as a Quarterback.
He played three years as the team’s starting quarterback, missing his senior season because he broke his elbow. He did play baseball that year though, which proves his toughness if nothing else. Due to the injury, he had to play football at a junior college, but it was his play in high school that eventually got him a starting QB role at UCLA.
12 Jane Lynch
Glee star and Golden Globe winner Jane Lynch might be a great actress, but her original love was once softball. She played on the varsity team back in high school, but it wouldn’t last long.
"I was an athlete. I loved softball, but I did play basketball. I didn't love it so much—I was recruited because I'm so tall," she said. Yes, she was recruited to play basketball simply because she was tall. That’s what sports were like in the late 70s.
It’s hard to say how good she was, especially since women’s basketball wasn’t all that big back then. Could she have been the 1980s Candice Parker? Possibly, her high school, Thornridge, had a good track record of producing pro athletes. The Illinois school produced five pros in the NFL, NBA, and MLB, as well as Olympian Quinn Buckner.
11 Joel McHale
At least Tom Cruise has a few action movies under his belt if anyone were to question his masculinity. Joel McHale has a TV show called The Soup and looks like he weighs slightly less than an eight year old.
As hard as it is to believe, McHale did indeed play sports in high school. He played just one year of football as a tight end and he was actually pretty big, even for his position.
“I can’t believe how skinny Joel is now,” former teammate Damon Huard said of him, “he really did take a lot of pride and put on a lot of weight.”
McHale was good enough to at least walk on to the University of Washington football team and ended up playing in the ‘93 Rose Bowl with team. Perhaps McHale explains his own ability best.
“I was very good at making the defense look good when I was on scout offense. I knew how to crumple really well and get tackled.”
10 Charlie Sheen
Believe it or not, Charlie Sheen used to be a great actor. Before he followed his father’s footsteps, however, and before he changed his name, he played baseball in high school. Back at Santa Monica High, where he attended alongside Dean Cain and Rob Lowe, Charlie Estevez was a decent baseball player.
In fact, he was so good he was even offered a full scholarship to the University of Kansas of all places. He claims he didn’t go because he was already becoming a big name actor, but his old high school coach has another explanation. Sheen didn’t play his full final year of baseball because he was expelled from school.
I guess that explains why he would go on to star in Major League, along with Dennis Haysbert who was also a baseball player in high school. Hollywood is a small world, isn’t it?
9 Avril Lavigne
Appearing on this list simply for a Sk8er Boi joke, Avril Lavigne played ice hockey during high school. She’s Canadian, so of course she played ice hockey.
In fact, she started playing from a young age. When she was as young as 10 years old, she was already competing against the boys. When she got to high school, she stared on the women’s hockey team and even played baseball. That’s right, baseball, not softball. She was the pitcher, and her and her team were so good they won a local tournament.
She quit sports long before she graduated high school after signing a music contract at the age of 16.
It’s hard to imagine Avril Lavigne playing ice hockey and apparently getting into fights with the boys on the ice as well. But it happened, and you can even see some videos of her on YouTube to this day.
If there’s anybody on earth you look at and say “that guy couldn’t have possible been an athlete,” it’s Prince. But, as you can tell by his name being on this list, you’d be wrong.
According to an old newspaper clipping discovered by Sports Illustrated, Prince was an all-star athlete, playing football, baseball, and basketball. He was such a good basketball player he made the varsity team his freshman year. The only problem was that he was short, only 5’2”. His old coach, Richard Robinson, had some generic things to say about him, but he did mention the height issue.
“He was an excellent ball handler, a good shooter, and very short. Probably with a different group of people he would have been a starter.” He also talked about how angry Prince was about not being a starter, constantly being pestered by the shorty while on the bench.
It sounds like no matter how good Prince actually was, he wouldn’t have had much of a chance to play in the NBA, given his size. Still, something tells me he did okay in the end.
7 Brad Pitt
Okay, I know Brad Pitt is still a big movie star. He attended Kickapoo High School in Missouri, a great name for anything, let alone a place of education. There, he played on the basketball team.
It would seem he got the position after playing basketball in middle school, though not with the school’s team. He tried out for his middle school’s basketball team, but didn’t make the cut. As a result, he organized a team of other rejects from across the area and formed his own basketball team, coached by his dad. One former player on the team says they won a trophy, but he couldn’t remember what for. Maybe he’s still star struck.
While at Kickapoo, he also played tennis, golf, swimming, and wrestling. This was while also on the debate team, performing in actual high school musicals, and apparently going on dates just about every night. What did you do in high school?
6 2 Chainz
2 Chainz, or Tauheed Epps as nobody knows him, was a Division 1 recruit coming out of North Clayton High in Georgia. He was the Sixth Man of the Year in Georgia on the high school level, and his team went on to win the 1992-1993 Class AA state title. Unlike Prince before him, 2 Chainz had size, measuring in at 6-foot-5.
ESPN tracked down his old coach, and what he had to say isn’t too surprising.
“He was very deceptive and kind of had a unique style, because all you really saw was arms and legs. He had good ball control but looked a little unorthodox. […] He could shoot the 3, he could go inside. He played with a lot of confidence and could talk some trash.”
One of his old teammates would go so far as to compare him to Scottie Pippen. He would go on to play Division 1 ball at Alabama State, but after one mediocre season he left to fulfill his real dream of becoming a rapper.
5 Forest Whitaker
If you’re familiar with Forest Whitaker, you’d probably think he was an offensive lineman. While you’d have the right sport, you have the position all wrong. He was actually a star quarterback at high school in southern California. He played well enough in high school to earn a scholarship to California State Polytechnic University, but didn’t play much after receiving a terrible back injury which ended his career.
As with many athletes on this list, it’s nearly impossible to find any concrete information on how good he was in high school. Palisades Charter High School, where he attended, is known for pumping out many celebrities, including actors, writers, coaches, and musicians. Apparently they don’t keep many records on their football team.
Anyone who can earn a football scholarship, even at a place like Cal Poly, must be pretty good though. He probably wouldn’t have ever lit it up on Sundays, but maybe it’s for the best.
4 Jamie Foxx
It’s a lot easier seeing Jamie Foxx playing sports than some others on this list. While at Terrell High School in Texas, Foxx played both football and basketball. His dream was to one day play for the Dallas Cowboys.
He played quarterback, and was actually the first player in school history to pass for more than 1,000 yards in a single season. The bar wasn’t set very high, but a record is a record. He only made the varsity basketball team in his senior season, and as such there’s no record on how well he actually played, though there is one dorky looking photo of him.
Foxx decided to quit sports entirely after he started acting and singing, and got a scholarship to a private university in San Diego.
3 Steve Carell
Comedian Steve Carell attended both The Fenn School and Middlesex School growing up, two private high schools for rich people’s kids. That being said, it should come as little surprise that Carell’s athletics of choice were both lacrosse and ice hockey.
In his freshman year at The Fenn, he grew a creepy mustache while playing lacrosse in an attempt to intimidate his opponents. Needless to say it didn’t work. He then moved on to ice hockey at Middlesex, where he played goalie. By his own admission he wasn’t great, but he did think about possibly going pro.
“I was a goalie,” he said in an interview. “At a certain point, you either have to commit to that as a potential career or let it become a fun hobby. Instead, I went to [Denison University] and played throughout college. It was for fun and not advancing myself.”
After he graduated , he went into acting and comedy full time.
2 George Clooney
Clooney’s definitely famous still and people will like this entry, definitely. While attending Augusta High School in Kentucky, Clooney played both baseball and basketball.
Given the old actor’s perfection, it might come as some surprise to hear that Clooney was actually pretty terrible on the court. In his senior season, he averaged just 6.0 PPG, and his team won only a single game while dropping 26. He was a much better outfielder in baseball. As he puts it, “I could catch anything. […]But I couldn't throw well.”
He was good enough to at least earn a try-out with the then World Champion Cincinnati Reds coming straight out of high school, but he didn’t earn a contract. That’s when he left the sports world behind to attend college for a few years before dropping out.
1 Will Ferrell
No one in a million years will ever confuse Will Ferrell for his many personas as athletes, especially his basketball playing character Jackie Moon in Semi-Pro. Somehow, against all odds, he actually did play sports, for real, when he was young.
He attended University High School, the most bizarrely named school on earth, where he played football as a kicker. Okay, not exactly the most athletically demanding position in sports, but he did set a school record number of field goals in a single season, which he still holds today.
Oddly, that wasn’t enough to get a scholarship anywhere, but he did go to the University of Southern California to pursue a career in sports journalism. He still loves sports though, which probably explains all the sports movies and weird minor league sports appearances he makes.
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