Wrestler Leavine aims for football

Some NFL scouts at Florida International University’s pro day joked that the 6-foot-4, 307-pound behemoth with a ponytail looked an awful lot like a pro wrestler.

They were actually right.

Andy Leavine – the winner of WWE’s 2011 Tough Enough competition for aspiring grapplers – returned to his football roots on Thursday by working out with other college prospects at his alma mater. New Golden Panthers head coach Ron Turner allowed Leavine, who played on FIU’s offensive line from 2006 to 2010, to participate along with potential draft prospects.

Although he now wrestles on weekends in Puerto Rico, Leavine admits he hasn’t shaken the gridiron bug. Leavine pursued a WWE career only after being released by the Miami Dolphins as a college free agent in 2010.

“I felt cheated at my last pro day,” Leavine told FOXSports.com. “Our head coach at the time (Mario Cristobal) kicked the scouts off the field while we were running 40s. I always had a bad taste in my mouth about it.

“After he got released, my wife told me, ‘Why don’t you go for the (FIU) pro day? You’re bigger and stronger than you’ve ever been.’”

Leavine’s size and athletic upside caught the eye of WWE’s front office, which signed him to a developmental contract. Leavine then participated in Tough Enough, the company’s reality-show version of "American Idol" where a WWE contract is awarded to the winner after a weekly series of televised competitions. WWE legend “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who was serving as one of the Tough Enough “judges,” declared Leavine the winner on an episode of Monday Night Raw.

But like many of the previous Tough Enough winners, Leavine wasn’t ready to handle the trappings and backstage politics that come with a quick rise to WWE fame. Rather than being featured prominently on WWE programming after his Tough Enough exposure, Leavine was sent back to the company’s developmental territory (Florida Championship Wrestling) for more seasoning. He was suspended 30 days for failing a drug test and later released in April 2012.

“It was a weird situation,” said Leavine, whose WWE nickname was “Silent Rage.” “They were thinking one thing and obviously I was thinking another … It was frustration on my end that did me in. I felt like they had put me in a position to shine and I was getting held back. Granted, there had been a lot of guys ahead of me that had been wrestling for a long time who were getting their shot, which they deserved. But I felt like, ‘You put me in this position where you spent millions and millions of dollars to build me up into something.’

“It’s kind of like going on a big date and at the end of the night she goes, ‘All right, I’ll call you tomorrow.’ Come on, man!”

A married father with two children, the 25-year-old Leavine hopes that his matches in Puerto Rico will catch the eye of wrestling companies in Mexico and Japan. Leavine knows that being signed by an NFL franchise is a long shot at this point, but he would welcome an opportunity with a Canadian Football League team to “get my feet back wet.”

“I haven’t played for three years but I know what I can do athletically,” said Leavine, who claims to have done 43 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press during his pre-pro day workouts. “I know if you put me in front of somebody I can tear them apart. I’ve still got it in me.

“You never know what door is going to open when one closes. We’ll see what happens.”