It’s not uncommon to see sports stars turn to music, movies or TV for a second career once their playing days are done, but for some famous faces, that heydey on the field or court barely registered a blip on the celebrity radar. Here are 25 well-known faces who you might not know were athletes before they were famous.
Bob DonnanUSA TODAY Sports
Mark Harmon (football)
The “NCIS” star is the son of 1940 Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon and spent two seasons as UCLA’s starting quarterback in the 1970s. “If Hollywood wanted to cast a young man in the role of football hero,” Sports Illustrated’s Dan Jenkins wrote in 1972, “Mark Harmon would be perfect.”
Rick OsentoskiUSA TODAY Sports
Sam Hunt (football)
The American Music Awards’ 2015 New Artist of the Year, Hunt spent a season playing quarterback at Middle Tennessee State before transferring to UAB, where he later started for the Blazers in 2007. It was after college that Hunt moved to Nashville and eventually became a fixture on the country music scene.
USA TODAY NETWORKThe Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Statham (diving)
Prior to embarking on a career as an action star, Statham was a world-class diver, and competed with the British national team at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand. In an interview with Katie Couric, Statham said he first became interested in diving on a family vacation to Miami as a child. “There was a guy who used to do a high dive, at noon every day, from one of the hotels that we stayed in,” Statham said. “And I went, ‘You know what? When we get home, I'm gonna do that.’”
Dan MacMedanUSA TODAY NETWORK
Burt Reynolds (football)
Though injuries kept him off the field for most of his career, Reynolds did play halfback for Florida State in the 1950s. In four games, Reynolds carried the ball 19 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns and also caught six passes for 76 yards, including a 33-yard reception against Georgia in 1954. Twenty-three years later, he was inducted into the Seminoles’ athletic hall of fame.
Ed O'Neill (football)
Long before he played Al Bundy or Jay Pritchett, O’Neill played scholarship football, first at the University of Ohio, and later, at Youngstown State. His play earned him a tryout with Chuck Noll’s Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969, but a pro career never panned out. “I actually enjoyed it,” O’Neill told Rich Eisen last year, “and my problem was that I’d never played (strong-side linebacker) before. So I was trying to learn it and make the team at the same time.”
Jayne Kamin-OnceaUSA TODAY Sports
Jon Stewart (soccer)
Known at the time as Jon Leibowitz, the ex-Daily Show host played soccer at William & Mary in the early 1980s. To this day, the Tribe still hand out the annual “Leibo Award” to the player with the most positive influence on the team’s attitude.
Getty Images for PepsiCoBryan Bedder
Emma Watson (field hockey)
One might expect the Harry Potter star to gravitate toward quidditch, but Watson was actually a successful field hockey player, and even played on her college club team during her time as a student at Brown.
Kurt Russell (baseball)
The son of a minor league player and team owner, Russell spent the early part of his career balancing baseball and acting, and ultimately reached the Double-A level during a brief minor league run of his own before an injury ended his career. “I had geared up to play pro ball from the time I was 13 or 14,” Russell once told ESPN. “The acting was something that just came along. But I made good money acting, so it wasn’t something that I was just going to put aside and pretend it didn’t exist.”
Michael MadridUSA TODAY Sports
Omari Hardwick (football)
The “Power” star played defensive back at the University of Georgia, earning a letter during the 1995 season. “I was at UGA playing with Champ Bailey and Hines Ward — both guys who will probably touch the Hall of Fame one day,” Hardwick said in 2014. “And they were rooting me on. All of these guys were like ‘There’s another thing to you, not just ball. You got this artist thing and you need to pursue that.’”
Phil Robertson (football)
Before he sprouted a beard and became the face of Duck Dynasty, Robertson played quarterback at Louisiana Tech, where he started ahead of FOX’s Terry Bradshaw for two seasons. In 2013, the pair were honored at halftime of a Bulldogs home game.
Kelly JordanUSA TODAY NETWORK
Joel McHale (football)
Though he was recruited to compete with the crew team at the University of Washington, the “Community” star ended up walking onto the football team and earned a Rose Bowl ring as a tight end in 1992 — despite not having played football since his freshman year of high school. “For me, it was like going from riding a bike to riding a motorcycle,” McHale wrote of his football career in 2011. “I had to make a thousand adjustments just to hold on. In practice, I was always on scout offense, which ran the opposing team’s plays against our defense. I made the defense look terrific.”
Robert HanashiroUSA TODAY NETWORK
Matthew Fox (football)
Before getting into acting, the “Lost” star played wide receiver at Columbia University, and was on the team in 1988, when the Lions’ record-setting 44-game losing streak came to an end with a 16-13 win over Ivy League rival Princeton.
Getty ImagesIlya S. Savenok
Dean Cain (football)
One year before that stunning loss to Fox and Columbia, the Princeton football team was led by Superman himself, as Cain, a Tigers defensive back, picked off 12 passes — at the time a Division I-AA record — and earned I-AA All-American honors as a senior. Cain later signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills, but a knee injury ended his playing career soon after.
Tommy Lee Jones (football)
Another Ivy Leaguer, Jones roomed with Al Gore and played offensive guard at Harvard in the 1960s. “I went into the indoor athletic building, where the coaches’ offices were at the time, and I asked to see Henry Lamar, the freshman football coach in those days,” Jones recalled in 2013. “And I said, ‘Coach, I love football, and I’m interested in acting, and I’ve been offered a part (in a play). Do you think I’ve got any chance of starting on this football team? And he said, ‘Well, I don’t know ... but I can tell you that you can act for the rest of your life, but you’ve only got four more years to play football. You make up your mind.’ So I did, and my interest in theater was outside the football season.”
Soobum ImUSA TODAY Sports
Tom Selleck (basketball)
After starting his career at Los Angeles Valley Community College, the “Magnum P.I.” star spent two seasons as a bit player on the basketball team at USC, where he made two career field goals and was reportedly listed in the media guide under his brother’s name, Bob.
Carl Weathers (football)
One look at Apollo Creed leaves little doubt as to Weathers’ physical gifts, and for two seasons in the late 1960s, he used them on the football field at San Diego State, where the future actor played linebacker. From there, Weathers spent two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, but his gridiron career was ultimately short-lived. “I’ll give you a completely honest answer: I wasn't present,” Weathers told Sporting News in 2007 when asked why football didn’t pan out. “I was a guy who had a tremendous amount of ability, but my head was always in the world of wanting to be an actor. I majored in theater at San Diego State. My one eye was on football, and my other eye was on Hollywood.”
Bill StreicherUSA TODAY Sports
Terry Crews (football)
Another one from the “no $#&! he played football” file, Crews — arguably best known as a jacked Old Spice pitchman — played defensive end at Western Michigan in the late ‘80s and was an 11th-round pick of the Rams in the 1991 NFL Draft. In addition to the Rams, Crews also played for the Chargers and Redskins before embarking on a career as an actor. “The good thing about football is that you develop a work ethic if you work at it, if you try,” the Brooklyn Nine-Nine star told Business Insiderearlier this year. “And you start to learn that anything can be learned.”
Mark J. RebilasUSA TODAY Sports
John Wayne (football)
It would be easy to gloss over Marion Morrison’s name on the USC football rosters of the 1920s, but Morrison — better known as John Wayne — played offensive tackle for the Trojans before getting into show business. According to the university, Wayne ultimately lost his scholarship after breaking his collarbone while surfing during his junior year.
Elsa Hosk (basketball)
Though best known as a Victoria’s Secret angel, the Stockholm native actually first went pro in basketball, and even played with the Swedish national team. “It became hard to balance everything,” Hosk told Ocean Drive of her decision to ultimately pick modeling over sports. “I had to choose basketball or modeling because I was doing both on top of school, and it was hard coming back from jobs and having my teammates already practicing new [skills]. I couldn’t keep up.”
Nick TurchiaroUSA TODAY Sports
2 Chainz (basketball)
A lanky, 6-foot-5 forward, Mr. Chainz — known at the time as Tauheed Epps — briefly played hoops at Alabama State in the mid-’90s. “I think if he had concentrated on basketball, and dedicated himself, he could be a pretty good player with his ball skills,” former Alabama State coach Rob Spivery told ESPN. “He was very skillful and he could shoot the ball pretty decently.”
Mark J. RebilasUSA TODAY Sports
John Goodman (football)
Before he spent a decade starring opposite Roseanne Barr on the hit show “Roseanne,” Goodman played football at Southwest Missouri State, but ultimately had to call it quits due to injury. “That was the bad news,” Missouri State President Clif Smart said in 2014, when Goodman received an honorary doctorate from the university. “The good news for all of us was that he changed his major to drama.”
Jeff CurryUSA TODAY Sports
Dr. Phil (football)
Better known as a TV shrink, Phil McGraw played middle linebacker at Tulsa in 1968. He quit football following a head injury that resulted in temporary blindness, but he stuck around long enough to withstand a 100-6 loss to Houston during his only season on the Golden Hurricanes' roster. Said McGraw of the loss during a 2013 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman: “At halftime I was looking out the earhole of my helmet.”
Known for playing football-related roles in such films as “Brian’s Song” and “The Program,” Caan actually played football during his time as a student at Michigan State, as well. That said, the longtime actor is modest about his role in the program: When the Spartans alumni association asked him in 1998 what position he played, Caan responded, “tackling dummy.”
Brian Kelley (baseball)
One half of the country music duo Florida Georgia Line, Kelley played college baseball at Florida State. After failing to break the Seminoles’ rotation, Kelley transferred to Belmont University in Nashville — a move that proved to be a smart move for both his baseball and music careers. “Brian had planned his whole life primarily to pitch in the major leagues,” Kelley’s father, Ed, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal in 2013. “When he didn’t get drafted, he obviously was upset. But he had another plan — his love of music and his ability to write.”
USA TODAY NETWORKThe Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports
Denzel Washington (basketball)
Washington looked the part of a basketball player in the 1998 film He Got Game, and it turns out he was a pretty decent player in real life, as well. In the early ‘70s, Washington spent two seasons on the JV team at Fordham University in the Bronx. His coach at the time? P.J. Carlesimo, who once described Washington as “a decent player.” High praise, indeed.