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Varsity Stars! Celebrities Who Excelled In Sports Before Fame

Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, appeared on the set of his hit athletic show, Titan Games. The celebrity athlete is about as successful as anyone in the business.
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Apr. 30 2019, Updated 10:37 p.m. ET

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There are many avenues that one could take to make it to the top of the entertainment business. For these celebrity athletes, training and talent went hand in hand — mirroring those who have pursued successful careers in athletics.

MORE: 42 of the biggest celebrity comebacks ever!

These 19 actors and actresses, much to the surprise of many, were decent athletes back in the day.

Did you know that while at Brown University Hermione herself, Emma Watson, used a field hockey stick as confidently as her Harry Potter character wielded a wand? Then there’s the former host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, who was such a standout soccer player in college that the team has an annual award that carries his name!

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MORE: 23 Celebrity body transformations that will inspire!

Those two are merely the tip of the iceberg of surprising celebrity athletes. Better warm up!

Celeb: Emma Watson

Emma Watson was all sorts of glamourous when she attended the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills.
Source: Getty

Sport: Field Hockey

College: Brown University

Who knew that Harry Potter star Emma was good at sports? After all, Hermione never played Quidditch! Turns out that Emma was quite the field hockey player when she stepped away from acting for a few years and attended Brown, according to Parade Magazine.

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Celeb: Terry Crews

Celebrity athletes terry crews
Source: Getty

Sport: Football

College: Western Michigan University

Long before rocking the silver screen in gems like The Expendables movies and of course his scene-stealing work on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Terry Crews was a formidable football powerhouse, as Us Weekly reported. He helped his college team win a conference title, and then he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams.

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Celeb: Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart, was seen at a film premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, sporting a newly grey beard and enjoying his retirement from The Daily Show.
Source: Getty

Sport: Soccer

College: William & Mary

Before Jon undertook a career as a comedian, an actor and eventually a host of The Daily Show, it was soccer that held his focus. His goals in the game were just as sharp as his attacks on politicians on his hit show. Interesting note: As ESPN reported, he went by the name of Jon Leibowitz when he competed — he changed his name for the entertainment business. To this day, the school awards athletes who reflect the most positive of attitudes. It’s called the Leibo Award after Jon.

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Celeb: Mark Harmon

NCIS star Mark Harmon attended a pre-game ceremony at the University of Michigan that honored his father, football legend Tom Harmon. Harmon himself was a huge star athlete at UCLA in the ‘70s.
Source: Getty

Sport: Football

College: UCLA

The NCIS star was a beloved quarterback for the UCLA Bruins, as reported by OK! Mark Harmon’s father had even won the Heisman Trophy! Mark started for two seasons and did quite well — the team had a combined record of 17-5. Under his leadership, the team upset the reigning champions of college football — Nebraska.

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Celeb: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Dwayne Johnson, soon to be known as “The Rock,” sported his #94 for the University of Miami Hurricanes. The blocker helped the team’s running backs run the ball upfield at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
Source: Getty

Sport: Football (and then wrestling)

College: University of Miami

Most people know — especially his fans and the millions who have turned out to see his movies — that Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, was a football player with serious talent that he turned into a pro wrestling career. When Johnson was at the University of Miami, his team was among the best in all of college football. Dwayne saw that defeating others was a way out of his poverty ridden upbringing, Us Weekly reported. He also become a champion in WWE before becoming an action hero on the big screen. Things seem to have worked out for him.

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Celeb: Jason Sudeikis

Celebrity athletes jason sudeikis
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Sport: Basketball

College: Fort Scott Community College

Funnyman Jason Sudeikis has entertained us for years with comedic roles, including his turns in Horrible Bosses and of course all those masterful sketches on Saturday Night Live. Before hitting it big in both acting and comedy, Sudeikis earned a full scholarship for basketball to Fort Scott Community College in his native Kansas. He left the school before graduation, as reported to ESPN. He left school and moved to New York and try to get on SNL. A regular courtside visitor (with his partner Olivia Wilde) at Brooklyn Nets or New York Knicks games, this superstar can appreciate the action on the court. Jason turned his son, Otis, onto the game. Jason has been seen at an LA Clippers game with Otis — according to Closer Weekly.

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Celeb: Forest Whitaker

Forest Whitaker was seen in an iconic scene from the classic film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Whitaker played a football star — something he was in real life at the University of Southern California.
Source: Getty

Sport: Football

College: USC

One of the first roles that introduced the world to Forest Whitaker was in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Forest was a football player who sought revenge after Ridgemont High’s rivals trashed his prized automobile. The role wasn’t a stretch for the future Oscar winner as he played for two seasons at USC with a full scholarship (according to TieBreaker.com). But when he received a music scholarship, he left the field for the stage and never looked back.

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Celeb: Jason Statham

Jason Statham was riding a wave of popularity when he made an appearance in Beijing at China’s Award Ceremony of Fashion Galaxy. He looked sharp in a dark blue suit and tie.
Source: Getty

Sport: Diving

College: N/A

Action hero Jason Statham has used his legs to karate kick his enemies on screen. Those legs served another purpose when he was younger. He was an esteemed member of Britain’s National Diving Squad! Statham competed for his country in the 1990 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand, as reported by Us Weekly. How does one become interested in diving? In an interview with Katie Couric, he credited a family vacation as spurring his diving interests. “There was a guy who used to do a high dive, at noon every day, from one of the hotels that we stayed in. And I went, ‘You know what? When we get home, I'm gonna do that,’” Statham stated.

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Celeb: Sheryl Crow

Celebrity athletes sheryl crow
Source: Getty

Sport: Track and Field

College: Kennett High School

Rocker Sheryl Crow took a slow and steady approach to becoming a major rock and roll star. She famously served as a backup singer for Michael Jackson before breaking out on her own. Her slow rise to fame was nothing like the speed she generated on the track as a high school sensation. ET Online reported that she was a medal winner at the Missouri State Championships for the 75-meter low hurdles. Looks like this celebrity athlete leapt her way through high school and now has audiences jumping for joy every time she plays one of their favorite hits.

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Celeb: Josh Duhamel

Josh Duhamel looked casual but still dapper as he attended the premiere of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.
Source: Getty

Sport: Football

College: Minot State

Before battling Transformers on screen, actor Josh Duhamel was throwing footballs as a quarterback for Minot State — a North Dakota college. He put up some impressive numbers in the two years he started as QB, including having thrown 1,242 passing yards with 10 touchdowns. He told Rachael Ray on her show that he wanted to go pro, but it just was not in the cards. Thankfully, he was quite good at acting.

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Celeb: Ed O’Neill

Celebrity athletes ed oneill
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Sport: Football

College: Ohio University

One of the big running jokes for the character that Ed O'Neill played, Al Bundy on Married with Children, was that his glory days were when he was the big star high school football player. Turned out that he was a decent football player in real life. He even earned a scholarship to Ohio University and scored a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers, as reported on CBS Sports online. That didn’t go so well, but fate had other plans for the future star of the massive TV hit Modern Family.

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Celeb: Kurt Russell

Celebrity athletes kurt russell
Source: Getty

Sport: Baseball

College: N/A

Kurt Russell had no choice but to pursue a career in baseball. The son of a player and team owner, the future movie star was a minor league player, eventually getting as high as AA (AAA is the highest before the major leagues). Fox Sports reported that injuries ended that chapter of Kurt’s life, and all that acting training sure came in handy. The Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 and The Hateful Eight star has had a stellar string of movie hits … and being with Goldie Hawn for all these decades has its perks too!

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Celeb: Denzel Washington

Celebrity athletes denzel washington
Source: Getty

Sport: Basketball

College: Fordham University

For every fan of Denzel Washington, they each have a different favorite movie. For many, it is the Spike Lee basketball drama, He Got Game. The scenes where he is going one-on-one with his son (played by professional baller Ray Allen) are rich with talent. Denzel’s native New York City is famous for its blacktop producing basketball talent, and some have even made it to the game’s Hall of Fame. Okay, Denzel was maybe not that good — ESPN dug deep to get the full story on Denzel’s talent for the game and found that he did play Junior Varsity basketball at New York’s Fordham University.

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Celeb: Elsa Hosk

Celebrity athletes elsa hosk
Source: Getty

Sport: Basketball

College: Enskilda Gymnasiet

Elsa Hosk, the future Victoria’s Secret Angel, was a force of nature of another kind in her native Sweden. She was a professional basketball player, as Us Weekly reported, even playing with the Swedish national team. But the pull of modeling won as Elsa Hosk couldn’t balance modeling with basketball and schoolwork. “It became hard to balance everything. 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,” she told Ocean Drive in an interview.

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Celeb: Burt Reynolds

Celebrity athletes burt reynolds
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Sport: Football

College: Florida State University

One of the greatest roles in the career of Burt Reynolds was the football tale, North Dallas Forty. For the legendary actor, it was not much of a stretch. Burt was a star running back (specifically a halfback) for the famous football school (as Us Weekly chronicled soon after he passed away) before a car accident derailed his athletic pursuits. Things happen for a reason, right? If he had stayed with football, he might never have discovered the acting bug and become a movie icon. How good was he at football before injuries derailed his sporting career? He was enshrined in the Florida State University Hall of Fame.

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Celeb: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Champion weightlifter Arnold Schwarzenegger held court at the Cannes Film Festival as the reigning Mr. Universe, surrounded by the “Folies Bergere” girls. The weightlifter soon returned to the fabled French city as a movie star.
Source: Getty

Sport: Weightlifting

College: N/A

Pumping Iron showed the world the screen presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger. It also showcased a bodybuilder and weightlifter who was at the top of his game, as was shown in Us Weekly. He won the coveted Mr. Universe title at the tender age of 20. That fame brought him to Hollywood, and the rest was history.

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Celeb: Geena Davis

Celebrity athletes geena davis
Source: Getty

Sport: Archery

College: N/A

Geena Davis discovered her love of archery later in life, which she revealed in Us Weekly’s famous “25 Things You Didn’t Know About Me.” She was already an established star, having appeared in films such as The Fly and the sporty A League of Their Own, plus who could forget Earth Girls are Easy? In 1997, she took up archery and found she was surprisingly talented at it. She even pursued an Olympic berth for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team heading to Australia for the games. Geena was one of 300 qualifiers and wound up finishing in 24th place. She also got to participate as a wild card entry for the Sydney International Golden Arrow competition.

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Celeb: Omari Hardwick

Power star Omari Hardwick took the stage to accept an award at the NAACP annual event in Hollywood, California. He was striking a pose familiar to football fans — the pose of the Heisman Trophy.
Source: Getty

Sport: Football

College: University of Georgia

The star of Power, Omari Hardwick, was quite powerful in his own right as a football standout at the University of Georgia, reported in an exclusive interview in OK! He was a defensive back and was often saluted by teammates Hines Ward and Champ Bailey — both potential future Hall of Famers of the NFL. Those gentlemen not only encouraged him on the field, they also saw something special in his thespian talents. “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,’” he said to Rolling Out magazine in 2014.

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Celeb: Dean Cain

Dean Cain and Carol Alt were seen during the 1997 MTV Rock n' Jock Football in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Source: Getty

Sport: Football

College: Princeton

Before he became Superman, Dean Cain was a super football defensive back at Princeton University, as revealed in Us Weekly’s always fantastically fun “25 Things You Didn’t Know About Me.” He scored 12 interceptions during his time on the field at the Ivy League school and scored Division 1 All-American honors his senior year. The Buffalo Bills of the NFL signed the player, but injuries derailed his professional career before it started. Things worked out OK — he’s among a handful of people in the history of the world who have played the Man of Steel.

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