There is no doubt that college football players are some of the top athletes on the planet. These athletes are in their prime during their college football years and flash brilliance on Saturdays, most of which holding aspirations of making it to professional football afterward.
However, some famous (or not-so-famous) college football players have gone on to bigger and better things than the NFL could have ever offered them. Here is the list of former college football players who have made it big as wrestlers.
Wrestlers Who Played College Football
Like any list of this nature, it’s nearly impossible to track down every athlete who has turned the page from college football to wrestling on the big stage. If we’re missing anyone on this list, please reach out to us and let us know.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Perhaps the most famous wrestler of all-time, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson revolutionized the sport and the fame it brought him afterward. One of the leading actors of this generation, Johnson’s humble beginnings kickstarted his production company, Seven Bucks Productions.
Despite all his success later in life, Johnson was actually a primary backup for the historic Miami Hurricanes teams in the early 1990s. Playing behind players such as Warren Sapp, Johnson recorded 4.5 sacks and 77 tackles in what amounted to a solid college career, all things considered.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin
You may not know it, but Stone Cold Steve Austin got his start on the gridiron as well. Austin, from Texas, played football at Edna High School and then at the JUCO level at Wharton County Junior College.
He played linebacker at North Texas before a knee injury sent him to the defensive line for the remaining days of his college career with the Mean Green.
Austin is one of the most well-known wrestlers of all-time and his historic battles with The Rock were actually between two college defensive ends.
Roman Reigns, born Leati Joseph Anoa’i, was a star on the football field before ever stepping foot in the wrestling ring. Reigns played for Georgia Tech — alongside legendary WR Calvin Johnson — and started the final three seasons of his career as a Yellow Jacket.
He was named a captain during his senior season and was a first-team All-ACC selection in 2006. Reigns recorded 4.5 sacks and 40 tackles in his final season and signed with the Minnesota Vikings following the 2007 NFL Draft.
Arguably the biggest star in the world of wrestling over the past few years, the question remains whether his football career could’ve been just as bright had he not been diagnosed with leukemia in the lead-up to the 2007 NFL season.
Another in the lineage of the most famous wrestler of his generation, John Cena’s name is synonymous with the sport. A headliner of five different WrestleMania events, Cena was an All-American center for Springfield College and captain of the football team prior to dominating the squared circle.
“Big E” Ettore Ewen
Known simply as Big E, Ettore Ewen is a former powerlifting champion and current staple of the WWE. Ewen was a star at Wharton High School and attended Iowa. He redshirted in 2004 and, despite injuries during his 2005 season, played for the Hawkeyes in 2006 before focusing on powerlifting.
Famous for his physicality in the ring, Bill Goldberg played defensive tackle for the Georgia Bulldogs. A member of the UGA team from 1987 to 1989, Goldberg was drafted in the 11th round by the Los Angeles Rams of the 1990 NFL Draft.
A retired wrestler and politician, Glenn Jacobs has had his fair share of time in the spotlight. This includes his time as a two-sport star for Northeast Missouri State University and his time as a two-sport star in high school.
The Big Red Machine has notable wrestling matches from the late 1990s and early 2000s that rocketed the sport into the national spotlight. Kane is best known for his relationship with the Undertaker, among other famous storylines, and has since moved on to a successful political career.
Ron “Farooq” Simmons
Arguably the best college football player turned wrestler, Ron Simmons — otherwise known as Farooq — is a college football Hall of Famer. Okaying for Florida State from 1977-1980, Simmons was a consensus All-American in both 1979 and 1980.
As a defensive tackle, Simmons finished ninth in Heisman voting in 1979. Simmons’ number is retired at Florida State, and he’s a member of the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame, the Florida State Hall of Fame, and the College Football Hall of Fame.
The Nation of Domination truly began during Simmons’ days in Tallahassee.
A standout at every sport he competed in, Bray Wyatt — born Windham Rotunda — was a wrestling legacy. Despite that, Wyatt went at it the traditional route and played football at the College of the Sequoias, earning All-American honors as a guard.
He transferred to Troy for his final two seasons in college and debuted in 2009 on the wrestling circuit. Wyatt tragically passed away in 2023 at age 36.
A member of the Ana’i Family of wrestlers, Jimmy Uso and his brother Jey Uso have famously wrestled alongside Roman Reigns for years now. Before that, Jimmy — the elder of the twins — played linebacker for West Alabama during the 2003 season.
Born Joshua Fatu, Jey Uso is a famed member of the Bloodline and wrestles as part of the Anoa’i Family with his twin brother Jimmy. Jey and Jimmy both played for West Alabama before following their father’s footsteps into wrestling.
You’d be hard-pressed not to see the American-born members of the Anoa’i Family on a football field during their youth careers. Solo Sikoa, a member of the Anoa’i Family on the SmackDown brand, is brother to Jimmy and Jey Uso, and was born Joseph Fatu.
Fatu played college football for American River College before moving to Dickinson State University and making his wrestling debut in 2018.
Born Lawrence Pfohl, Lex Luger originally attended Penn State on a football scholarship. After a dispute around his best position, Pfohl transferred to Miami, sitting out the 1977 season before suiting up in 1978. Though he was kicked off the team due to “off-the-field incidents,” Luger played professional football in the CFL before wrestling.
“Big Van Vader” is simply known as Vader or by his name at birth: Leon Allen White. Before turning to the squared circle, Vader was a highly recruited center from Bell High School in Los Angeles, California.
During his college football career at the University of Colorado, Vader was named a second-team All-American guard and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the third round of the 1978 NFL Draft.
A massive individual, Thomas Pestock — better known as Baron Corbin — just looks like a football player. Though an early boxer during his life, Corbin played offensive line for Northwest Missouri State University and was named honorable mention all-MIAA in 2007.
Corbin signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 2009 and roomed with Pat McAfee in the summer of 2009.
Mojo Rawley, real name Dean Muhtadi, played football at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. Rawley transferred to Maryland and finished third in sacks for the Terps in 2008.
He owns several records in Maryland’s all-time strength and speed record books. His 36 reps on the bench press are a team record, while he owns most of the defensive line records among the pre-draft measurable circuit.
John “Bradshaw” Layfield
John Layfield, who wrestled under the name Bradshaw or simply JBL, first got his start in competitive sports with Trinity Valley Community College as an offensive lineman. He played for Abilene Christian University and was named to the All-Lone Star Conference.
The Los Angeles Raiders signed JBL following the 1990 NFL Draft.
Brian Pillman was a massive portion of wrestling’s rise to fame in the late 80s and early 90s. Prior to that, Pillman was a stalwart defender for the Miami RedHawks. Pillman earned All-American honors in his final two seasons with the RedHawks in 1982 and 1983 before signing with the Cincinnati Bengals following the 1984 NFL Draft.
Steve “Mongo” McMichael
Steve McMichael has had a lengthy career in the public eye. Before his appearances on the wrestling stage or political stage, McMichael was a college football player for the Texas Longhorns.
A consensus first-team All-American during his senior season, McMichael was named the team MVP in 1979. He was inducted into the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1999 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Ted “The Millon Dollar Man” DiBiase is famous for his time as a WWF Heavyweight Champion among many other accolades during his wrestling career. Like many others, Diabiase got his start on the gridiron. DiBiase played for West Texas State University with fellow footballers-turned-wrestlers Tito Santana and Tully Blanchard.
Marcus Cor Von
An All-American linebacker at Ferris State, Marcus Cor Von made his wrestling debut in 2002. Cor Von, named Monty Brown, was named an All-American linebacker and set multiple defensive records with the Bulldogs.
He was named the MVP of the 1992 Ferris State team and inducted into the Bulldog Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009.
One of the biggest influencers in the sport of wrestling during the early days, Ernie Ladd got his start on the gridiron at Grambling State. Following his stint with Grambling, Ladd was a fourth-round selection in the 1961 NFL Draft. He went on to be an AFL Champion and a three-time first-team All-AFL selection.
Wahoo McDaniel, named Edward McDaniel, was a notable NWA wrestler during his career that started with his career as a college football player. McDaniel still owns the longest punt in Oklahoma history — 91 yards.
Born Thaddeus Bullard, Titus O’Neil is now the Global Ambassador of the WWE. Prior to that, O’Neil made his mark on the college football field with the Florida Gators. O’Neill played for Steve Spurrier and played 44 regular season games from 1998-2000.
Elected the student body vice president in April of 2000, O’Neill ultimately signed with the Las Vegas Gladiators in the Arena Football League before joining the wrestling circuit.
“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan
A star athlete in high school, Jim Duggan, known better as Hacksaw Jim Duggan, was recruited by Ohio State but played collegiately at SMU. He was a team captain and signed with the Atlanta Falcons out of college before starting his wrestling career in 1979.
“Cowboy” Bill Watts
A famed wrestler who feuded with Bruno Sammartino, “Cowboy” Bill Watts first got his start in college football. A guard with the Oklahoma Sooners, Watts played collegiately with Wahoo McDaniel in Norman. Though a car accident shortened his football career, Watts still made the United Football League and eventually found success with wrestling.
Best known for his appearances as Ahmed Johnson in the WWE, Johnson was born Anthony Norris and starred at just about every sport he participated in. Norris played football at Tennessee and professionally for the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s.
Fritz Von Erich
A multi-sport star before joining the wrestling ranks, Jack Barton Adkisson Sr. is better known as Fritz Von Erich. Prior to his professional wrestling career, Adkisson played for SMU, and ultimately, reports are unclear about his professional football career.
A star on the amateur wrestler circuit, Verne Gagne won multiple NCAA titles and carried that success over to his time in professional wrestling. Before that, however, Gagne was a standout for Minnesota. He was named to the All-Big Ten team in 1943.
An enigmatic force on and off the field, Enzo Amore played football for Salisbury University between 2007-2009. He was a standout at Waldwick High School and worked as a DJ and ticket salesman for the New York Jets following his career playing days.
Frederick Rosser III, known by his ring name Darren Young, signed to the WWE in 2005. Prior to that, Rosser played on both sides of the ball for Fairleigh Dickinson University for a season before focusing on his studies and wrestling.
An impressive resume followed Donald Jake Hager’s college football playing days. Known professionally as Jack Swagger during his time with the WWE, Oklahoma recruited Hager as a two-sport star.
Hager played football for Oklahoma and wrestled for the Sooners’s nationally-recognized wrestling program. He played behind future NFL players Tommie Harris and Dusty Dvoracek during his freshman season before stopping football to focus solely on wrestling during his sophomore season.
Erick Rowan, born Joseph Ruud, is certainly best known for his time with the WWE. However, Ruud got his start on the football field and attended the University of Minnesota Morris, where he played football.
Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff
Paul Orndorff, better known as Mr. Wonderful, played football for the University of Tampa. A member of the University of Tampa Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986, he recorded 21 total touchdowns as both a fullback and tight end during his time with the Spartans.
Born Merced Solis, Tito Santana is his better-known ring name during his time with the WWF. A former champion and multi-title holder, Santana made his name as a wrestler but started his career in college football. Solis was a member of the West Texas State Buffaloes as a tight end, where he was teammates with Tully Blanchard.
A member of the Four Horsemen, Tully Blanchard played football at West Texas State University as a quarterback and defensive end. He played with Tito Santana and Ted DiBiase during his time with the Buffaloes.
Darren “Droz/Puke” Drozdov
Known as Droz during his time on the wrestling circuit, Darren Drozdov was an athletic star dating back to his days in high school. Earning shot put records at Oakcrest High School, Drozdov played football at Fork Union Military Academy and Maryland. He played three seasons in the NFL before turning to professional wrestling.
Mike Adamle (announcer)
A former announcer for the WWE, Mike Adamle first began his career with Northwestern. Named the Big Ten MVP as a fullback during the 1970 season, Adamle was a fifth-round selection of the 1971 NFL Draft. Adamle also hosted the show American Gladiators from 1998-2001.
Famous for his many contributions to the game of football, especially as a member of the inaugural College Football Hall of Fame class in 1951, Bronko Nagurski’s wrestling career oftentimes goes overlooked. Nagurski, who famously picked up a plow to point directions out to Minnesota head coach Clarence Spears, was a do-it-all player for the Gophers in 1927-1929.
During his historic success in professional football, Nagurski also built himself a second career as a wrestler. He was a box-office attraction and continued to wrestle until 1960.
William “The Refrigerator” Perry
Widely known for his success on the field, William Perry, aka the Refrigerator, had a successful stint as a professional wrestler. With his success on the field as an NFLer, it’s no surprise that he was a standout defensive player with Clemson from 1981-1984.
Perry was selected with the 22nd overall pick of the first round in the NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006.
Though not necessarily a professional wrestler in the full-time sense, Greene had multiple years of competition inside WWF and WCW, pairing multiple times with Steve McMichael, a former football alumnus. Prior to his time in the ring and his success on the NFL field, Greene walked on to the Auburn Tigers in 1983.
By the 1984 season, Greene had entrenched himself as one of the best defensive players in the SEC, earning Defensive Player of the Year Award in the SEC that season. He recorded 11 sacks during his senior year and was a fifth-round pick in the 1985 NFL Draft.
LT is another one in the lineage of not a full-time wrestler, but certainly left his mark on the sport. Lawrence Taylor, one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, got his start as a notable football player at North Carolina.
During his time with the Tar Heels, Taylor was a team captain and finished with 16 sacks during his final season in Chapel Hill. He was the ACC Player of the Year and a consensus All-American in 1980 before becoming the second overall pick in the 1981 NFL Draft.
Wrestlers With No College Football Experience
Owner of one of the most impressive sporting resumes in the world, Brock Lesnar is a former football player who played in the NFL, won a UFC Heavyweight title, and consistently draws massive audiences in the WWE. Lesnar, from Webster, South Dakota, is also one of the most decorated collegiate wrestlers of all time.
However, unlike most on this list, Lesnar’s football career actually began in the NFL as he had no previous college football experience before signing with the Minnesota Vikings in 2004.
Despite his size and affiliation with the Texas Longhorns football program, The Undertaker was never a member of the football program at UT. Instead, The Undertaker, born Mark Calaway, played basketball at Angelina College in Lufkin, Texas, as well as two years at center for Texas Wesleyan University.
Taker is best known for his WrestleMania streak, among many other famous storylines, and arguably one of the most famous wrestlers of all time.