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Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Athletes In School

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Many celebrities are well-known for their singing or acting skills, but did you know that some of your favorite celebrities also have incredible athletic abilities? Whether they received college athletic scholarships or walked straight on to the team, all of these celebrities had what it took to compete at the collegiate level.

Some celebs have even competed at insanely exceptional institutions. From Kurt Russell’s minor league baseball days to Dwayne Johnson’s early professional football career, you’d never guess that these celebrities played sports in college. Take a glimpse at which celebrities may have made it as athletes if Hollywood didn’t come calling…

Emma Watson

Emma Watson is not only an amazing actress, but she was also a great field hockey player when she attended Brown University. The Little Women actress was a member of Brown’s varsity women’s field hockey team from 2009 to June 2013, when she graduated.

During her senior year, she served as captain of the team, and while she no longer competes in field hockey at a professional level, Watson continues to actively play sports. In fact, she recently revealed that her favorite way to relax is going for a swim.

Nina Dobrev

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Nina Dobrev, best known for her starring role as Elena Gilbert on The CW’s hit series The Vampire Diaries, participated in pretty much every sport imaginable: volleyball, soccer, baseball (even with boys), basketball, and flag football during her high school days.

Dobrev is a talented gymnast who started training at a young age. At 14, after completing intense training for over 12 months, she competed in the Canadian National Gymnastics Championships, and today, she participates in various celebrity sporting events, like Celebrity Beach Bowl.

Steve Carell

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The actor was a high school ice hockey goalie, and he spoke to ESPN in 2013 about his experience. “I had to make that decision in high school. I had to think about whether I was going to go to a Division I college hockey program and fight for the job of the goaltender, or do something else,” he said.

Originally playing for fun at Division III Denison University in Ohio, he later got to show off his skills on the popular episode of “The Office” as “Michael’s Birthday.” Although his character was never shown playing in an actual game, Scott’s passion for the sport was evident.

Renée Zellweger

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Renée Zellweger is a renowned actress and producer who has been acting in films since the mid-nineties. She’s also appeared on several television shows. She was a high school cheerleader and still has a strong high kick just like she did back then.


The star of Bridget Jones’s Baby took a trip down memory lane when she showed Jimmy Fallon her cheerleading moves from seventh grade on The Tonight Show. It was evident that she still had the same energy and enthusiasm as she did back in her younger years.

Geena Davis

Geena Davis is, without a doubt, a special actor. In 1999, she was the 24th best archer in the United States and 13th overall in the Olympic Trials. She didn’t, however, just begin shooting arrows out of nowhere, this was because of her training for a role as an assassin in The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996).

The actress didn’t stop there. In addition to being an excellent poker player, she also holds black belts in both taekwondo and karate. She can fluently speak Swedish and even has her own line of playing cards. Davis has since had an impressive career in Hollywood.

Ed O’Neill

After playing football for Youngstown State during his college career, Ed O’Neill got signed as an undrafted free agent to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969. However, he was cut from the team during training. Sadly, O’Neill’s football career didn’t seem to be going anywhere at that point.

O’Neill had a few odd jobs before he shot to fame, including selling cars and subbing for teachers. But now he’s one of the most successful actors in Hollywood. He is best known for his role as Al Bundy on the sitcom Married… with Children, and more recently as Jay Pritchett on Modern Family.

Kate Hudson

While many know her now as a successful movie star, Kate Hudson could have easily had a completely different career. As a child, she was very passionate about soccer. However, she eventually had to give up the sport because acting and dancing meant more to her.

Though she didn’t end up making it professionally, the experience helped her land the role of a soccer mom in You, Me, and Dupree. This isn’t the first time that Hudson’s athletic abilities have benefited her career. In 2009’s Bride Wars, she did her own stunts, which included running and diving through plate glass.


Elsa Hosk

Elsa Hosk, whose modeling career began when she was 14 years old, is best recognized as a Victoria’s Secret model. She once played professional basketball in Sweden for two years. She occasionally takes to Instagram to share her skills with her followers.

She started modeling at 14 while also playing basketball and attending school, but she felt like she had too much on her plate. So after two years of being a professional basketball player, she had to choose between her passions – basketball and modeling. She decided to model.

Matthew McConaughey

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Matthew McConaughey isn’t just any run-of-the-mill golfer. He was ranked in Hollywood’s top 100, and he frequently participates in golfing events. In addition, McConaughey boasts four hole-in-ones… quite an accomplishment. His love for golf started at a young age when he was just four years old.

Golf has always been a big part of McConaughey’s life. In addition to playing competitively, he also enjoys teaching the game to others. He’s given golf lessons to both children and adults, and he always strives to make the learning process fun and enjoyable.

Kate Middleton

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The Duchess of Cambridge has always enjoyed playing field hockey and even competed while she was in college. Before the 2012 London Olympics, she visited England’s Olympic team as they practiced and showed off her skills.

She is well-known for her passion for sports and often gets photographed participating in various athletics. Outlets have even captured her displaying her skills on a field hockey pitch. She’s also an avid tennis player and is known to play with her husband, Prince William.

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Although famous today for her fashion modeling or high-profile marriage to Justin Bieber, it may come as a surprise that Hailey Bieber was trained as a ballerina before her rise to fame. She formerly danced for the Miami City Ballet and received training at the renowned American Ballet Theater.


Bieber began ballet lessons when she was just three. She studied at the Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, a renowned performing arts school in New York City. She trained as a ballerina until she was 16 before deciding to pursue a modeling career.

Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington began playing basketball at a young age and eventually ended up at Fordham University, where he joined the university’s basketball team as a walk-on. According to his teammates, Washington was excellent on defense but terrible with shooting, but his tenacity more than made up for any errors he made.

He eventually decided to focus on his studies and pursue a career in acting. After some time, his undeniable talent and magnetic personality led him to Hollywood, where he starred in numerous well-known films, such as his role as a drug dealer in Training Day.

Britney Spears

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Britney Spears rose to stardom while she was still in high school, but before her career took off, she played on her school’s basketball team. She has probably not played a competitive sport since she was a point guard in high school at Parklane Academy, but that doesn’t mean she’s forgotten how to play.

In an interview with Health, Spears said that she loved playing basketball. “It’s really good cardio,” she explained, “and I like the feeling of the ball bouncing.” Her big break came when she was cast as a regular on The Mickey Mouse Club, which aired on the Disney Channel from 1992 to 1996.

Uzo Aduba

Uzo is a Boston University alumna who ran on the track and field team. She broke records and won medals during her time there. She wasn’t always interested in running, but she became intrigued by it during college. “I started running because I wanted to see if I could do it,” she told NPR in 2016.

She did more than just run. She also excelled at her sport. After her success on the track, she was recruited into professional running. She participated in the Olympic trials in 2008 but failed to make the team. She eventually went on to represent the United States at the World Championships.


Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

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Before he became a professional wrestler for WWE, The Rock was a defensive lineman at the University of Miami. He played on the school’s 1991 national championship team and was cut from the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League (CFL) early into the 1995 season.

At 6 feet 5 inches and 290 pounds, it’s safe to say that he probably intimidated people on the field. The Rock actually got his name from his family, as both his grandfather and father were professional wrestlers. When The Rock entered the WWE in 1996, he was given the same name as his predecessors.

Avril Lavigne

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The Punk princess Avril Lavigne was gliding across the ice before she turned two. The singer admitted that she even brings a pair of rollerblades on tour so she can play street hockey. Unsurprisingly, skating takes up a large part of Lavigne’s life and it clearly means a lot to her.

She still enjoys the sport and skates when she can, even if she doesn’t skate as often as she used to. In 2018, she uploaded a video of herself skating to one of her own songs, “Head Above Water.” It’s clear that Avril Lavigne will always be a skater girl at heart.

Amy Adams

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Amy Adams enjoyed dancing and track events during high school. “I never pursued higher education because it wasn’t an option in my family. And I stopped doing sports. My parents wanted me to stick with track because I was really fast, but I told them, ‘I want to dance,'” she said. “That was my outlet.”

She continued to hone her skills as a dancer and took her talent to the next level by auditioning for a spot on a professional dance team. She made the cut and spent the next several years dancing professionally. She then eventually decided to try her hand at acting.

Channing Tatum

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After being chosen as the most athletic at Tampa Catholic High School, where he played football and ran track, Channing received a full scholarship to play football at a college in West Virginia but he didn’t enjoy it. “I just got tired of playing,” he once told ESPN.


He gave up his scholarship and dropped out of college in order to return to Florida, where he worked as a roofer, a mortgage broker, a personal trainer, and a nightclub DJ. It was while working as a roofer that his life changed when he met writer and producer Reid Carolin.

Amanda Seyfried

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Amanda Seyfried is a huge tennis fan, and she sometimes goes to watch tennis matches, such as her yearly attendance at the US Open as a spectator. She was spotted in the stands supporting Serena Williams when the tennis star won her sixth US Open title.

While making Letters to Juliet in Italy, the actress, singer, and songwriter took to sports and exercise to compensate for all the calories consumed. She engaged in these activities with her co-star Vanessa Redgrave. The two ran around town, and Seyfried also took dancing lessons.

Tom Selleck

Did you know that Tom Selleck, in addition to being well-known for his iconic mustache, was quite a talented basketball player in his youth? In fact, he received a scholarship to play basketball at Southern Cal University in the 60s. He also used this period to pursue his acting and modeling interests.

Selleck became a household name after appearing in the TV series Magnum P.I., which aired from 1980 to 1988. He’s also appeared in films such as Three Men and a Baby and Quigley Down Under.

Kurt Russell

Before becoming an actor, Kurt Russell played baseball in the minor league. He was mostly a second baseman, but he had some experience pitching. He was drafted by the California Angels in 1966 but his time playing baseball was cut short by an injury to his shoulder that he sustained a year later.

This sidelined him for most of the season and effectively ended his career with the Angels, who released him in 1968. Afterward, Russell turned to acting as a profession. He has since appeared in a number of famous films, including The Thing, Escape from New York, and The Hateful Eight.


Burt Reynolds

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After enduring three major injuries during his sophomore year of college that benched him for two seasons, Burt Reynolds was cut from the varsity squad. This made him transfer to another school so he could play football for their semi-pro team while studying acting.

He later turned to acting, a childhood passion of his, and rose to fame as a teenager when he starred in several films. His first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor was won in 1972 with Deliverance, for which he received $25,000 and became well-known.

Jamie Foxx

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Wearing the no. 13 jersey, Jamie Foxx played basketball for his high school team with unmatched passion. He even considered going pro. Unfortunately, a devastating injury to his left eye from a pickup game suddenly brought an end to those aspirations forever.

Foxx, who in 2004 won an Academy Award for Best Actor and a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, says he still enjoys going out to play basketball. He claims that playing basketball helps him get rid of tension.

Mahershala Ali

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Mahershala Ali has had his ups and downs and not only is he a successful actor, but he also has an academic background. He played basketball for Saint Mary’s College while studying communications and later went on to study acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Ali has appeared in a number of films and television shows, such as The Hunger Games and House of Cards. His tremendous talent has awarded him two Oscars for his roles in Moonlight and Green Book. He is also a successful musician and has released several albums under the name Alimayu.

Mark Harmon


Mark Harmon played quarterback for UCLA for two years before moving on to acting, such as when he was catching criminals on NCIS and wooing Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday. He was drafted by the New England Patriots in 1970, but an injury ended his football career before it had a chance to begin.

Harmon’s life, though, was not destined to end so badly. He went on to have a lucrative career in television and film, with appearances on St. Elsewhere, The West Wing, and most importantly, NCIS. He has also been nominated for several Golden Globes throughout his illustrious career.

James Dean

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The actor who played Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause was also a high-scoring basketball player on his high school’s team in Indiana. He also had time to play football and run track. He excelled at all three sports.

Not only was Dean a great athlete, but he was also a good actor. He took method acting classes at the Actors Studio in New York City. He gave noteworthy performances in Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden—so much so that he received Academy Award nominations after his passing.

Tom Cruise

A young Tom Cruise’s foray into soccer was cut short due to an injury, and this made him try out for a role in his school’s production of Guys and Dolls. As they say, everything happens for a reason. From there, Cruise’s acting career took off, and he soon became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

It was his role as Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible franchise that really solidified his status as an action star. Since then, Cruise has continued to appear in some of the biggest movies of all time, including blockbusters such as The Mummy and The Last Samurai.

Charlie Sheen

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Charlie Sheen’s character in Major League, Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, is similar to that of the actor himself. Before making it big in Hollywood, he was a relief pitcher for Santa Monica High. He caught the attention of the Los Angeles Dodgers but decided to go to college instead.


Charlie Sheen’s turbulent personal life is well-known. He has had numerous brushes with the law, gone to rehab several times, and been in many high-profile relationships. Despite all of this, Charlie Sheen is one of Hollywood’s most bankable celebrities.

Terry Crews

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Terry Crews was selected in the 11th round of the NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams in 1991. He spent three years with the Rams before being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1994. He signed with the Miami Dolphins for one season after being released by the Bucs, playing for them for two seasons.

After being released by the Dolphins, he was picked up by the New England Patriots. He played four seasons with them and won a Super Bowl in his final year before moving on to play for other teams. The America’s Got Talent host participated in pro football until 1997 when he turned to acting.

Tommy Lee Jones

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It’s no surprise that Tommy Lee Jones is an intelligent man. After all, he did go to Harvard University, where he studied English. But what some people may not know is that the actor is also quite athletic, having played on the school’s football team as an offensive lineman.

Whatever it is that Jones is doing – whether it’s acting, directing, or producing – he always brings his A-game. And we’re sure that his many followers are grateful for that. Jones has shown a knack for numerous skills throughout the years, and it appears there’s nothing he can’t accomplish.

Joel McHale

The comedian, actor, and TV host played tight end for the University of Washington’s football team during his college years. However, he apparently wasn’t very good at it because he left the sport behind to pursue a career in acting and comedy.

He is best known for his roles in the TV comedy series Community and The Soup. He is known for making fun of himself, but he also takes time to roast other celebrities. He even roasted Justin Bieber at a Comedy Central roast. McHale is a hilarious guy, and people love him for it.


Jon Stewart

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The comedian played as a winger on the William & Mary men’s soccer team back in college. He even made it to the varsity level. He helped his team reach the NCAA tournament by scoring an important winning goal. “He was a great asset to have on our team,” said his coach with admiration.

Although he enjoyed soccer, Stewart also got a thrill out of making people laugh. In 1986, he got into stand-up comedy and eventually struck it big with his own TV show called The Daily Show. He doesn’t play soccer anymore and instead relies on his sharp wit and sense of humor.

Forest Whitaker

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He played football during his senior year in high school before going on to California State Polytechnic University on a football scholarship. However, a back injury compelled him to trade playing sports for music studies after college. After graduating, he began his acting career.

As an accomplished actor, director, and producer, Whitaker has starred in films such as Waiting to Exhale (1995) and First Daughter (2004), and served as a producer on television shows such as The Shield (2002-2008) and Southland (2009-2013), and is also an accomplished stage actor.

Matthew Fox

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After 44 straight losses playing football in college, it’s no wonder that Fox decided to focus on acting instead. His record while playing wide receiver for Columbia was an abysmal 2-38. However, he did have a few notable catches. In his final game, he did have an 82-yard touchdown reception.

Though he didn’t have a great college career, Fox still managed to be drafted by the NFL. He was drafted by the New York Jets in the seventh round of 1995 and was later cut before playing a season with them. He made his way back to play two seasons with the Carolina Panthers before they released him too.

2 Chainz

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2 Chainz was a Division I basketball recruit from North Clayton High School in College Park, Georgia. The 6-foot-5 rapper played one season at Alabama State University, where he started 24 of 29 games. He then went on to play basketball for Virginia State University on a scholarship.


In 1997, he formed the garage-rap duo Playaz Circle with his high school friend Dolla Boy. The pair’s debut album Supply & Demand was released in October 2007. “Duffle Bag Boy,” the lead single and their most successful song, peaked at number 11 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Jason Statham

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Jason Statham is a British actor and film producer. He was a competitive diver as a youngster and even represented England at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. While he didn’t win any medals, it’s apparent where he got his extremely athletic physique and features.

His well-known film roles are in the Transporter franchise, Crank series, The Italian Job, and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Jason Statham is not only an actor; he has also produced several films, one of them being the 2015 action thriller Wild Card.

Justin Timberlake

“When I’m out on the golf course, I feel like I can really be myself,” Timberlake told He joined his first club at 12 years old and says he hasn’t stopped golfing since. For him, the sport provides a sense of peace and solitude that is hard to come by in everyday life.

Timberlake says golf has helped him keep things in perspective. “Golf has really taught me how to handle wins and losses,” he said. “In life, you’re going to have ups and downs, but there’s no use dwelling on the negative.” He has always looked up to Tiger Woods and he once played golf with him.

Hugh Jackman

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Hugh Jackman’s love of rugby started when he was just a child. His father was a passionate fan of the game and took him to his first match when he was just five. Jackman took most of his pent-up childhood anger out in rugby. Today, he’s a fan of the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles.

“I was a pretty angry kid, and I took it out on the rugby field,” Jackman said. It wasn’t until he was in his 20s that he began to channel his anger more constructively through acting. “I found acting as an outlet for a lot of that energy,” he said. “It’s still there, but I know how to use it now.”


Ryan Seacrest

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Ryan Seacrest, born in Atlanta, Georgia, was an excellent football player. The TV personality and radio show host excelled as a defensive back on his high school’s varsity team and was always active. “He had a gift,” Steve Spurrier Jr., his high school football coach, said.

Seacrest didn’t play football in college (he applied to study journalism at the University of Georgia). He did try out for the NFL Draft but he was unsuccessful. He later went on to become one of American Idol’s most popular co-hosts.

Ellen DeGeneres

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Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is a big fan of tennis. She not only frequently talks about the sport on her show but also plays in celebrity tournaments from time to time. In fact, she even tried to set up tennis star Naomi Osaka with actor Michael B. Jordan at one point.

Tennis is a sport that requires precision, skill, and stamina. DeGeneres has said that she loves the feeling of hitting a tennis ball and enjoys playing because it’s a great way to stay in shape, coupled with the added benefit of giving her an opportunity to socialize.