The silent film classic “The Freshman” opens by describing the fictional Tate University as “a large football stadium… with a college attached.”

Indeed, college athletics are often maligned as an elaborate, and disproportionately large, fundraiser for colleges and universities. But behind all the glitz and marketing that swarm around college sports, they are also a place where future leaders and celebrities gain the skills and experience to be excellent.

To prove this point, we’ve done some digging on notable people who participated in college sports (excluding pro athletes, of course, because that would just be plain silly). In our research, we found that the list includes a bunch of movie stars, U.S. presidents, and even a prince:

Gerald Ford

Before he was the 38th president of the United States, he was a center and linebacker for the University of Michigan Wolverines. In fact, he was part of Michigan teams who claimed back-to-back undefeated seasons and national titles in 1932 and 1933.

Burt Reynolds

Before “Smokey and the Bandit,” he was a smokin’ hot runningback for Florida State University. He was so good that he was picked up by the Baltimore Colts. Unfortunately, a car accident ended that opportunity.

John Kennedy

While it’s well-known that JFK loved to play the field, you might not know that he also spent some time on the football field at Harvard University.

Dean Cain

It turns out this future Superman was pretty super on the gridiron. He was so good that he got a bunch of offers from college football programs, but finally settled on Princeton. This turned out to be a good decision because it resulted in him having 11 interceptions in one season and dating Brooke Shields. Cool side note: he played high school football with Rob Lowe and Charlie Sheen.

John Stewart

This Daily Show funnyman was also known for serving up some zingers on the soccer field. Word has it he scored 10 goals while playing soccer for the College of William and Mary.

Ed O’Neill

Just in case you thought Al Bundy spent all his free time sitting on his couch, you should know that Ed O’Neill was actually a star defensive lineman at Youngstown State and Ohio University. He impressed enough to get a tryout with the Steelers.

Richard Nixon

We don’t know if he was a crook or not, but, apparently, he was a pretty feisty linebacker while studying at Whittier College.

Forest Whitaker

Before he was “The Butler,” this acclaimed actor played football for Cal Poly Pomona. Unfortunately, he had to leave the sport when he was laid low by a bad back injury.

Ronald Reagan

You this president was also an actor, but you probably didn’t know that, before all that jazz, he played football for Eureka College. Oh, and he modeled for art classes there.

John Wayne

This seems like a no-brainer, but, yes, the Duke played football. In fact, he played for the USC Trojans (not Duke, in case you were wondering).

Prince William

You knew we had to fit the British Royals in somehow. Before becoming the husband of Kate Middleton, this prince played water polo at St. Andrews.

Matthew Fox

Before he was lost on a tropical island of misfit plane passengers, Matthew Fox was a wide receiver at Columbia University. This proved about as ill-fated as the plane crash: his team went 0-30 during his time there.

Barack Obama

It’s well-documented that our current president loves his hoops. But it’s not as well known that he actually played college hoops at Occidental College.

Nick Nolte

This one’s not that hard to imagine. He played at Eastern Arizona College, and I don’t think any of us would want to clash with ol’ Nick at the line of scrimmage.

Jimmy Carter

This peanut farmer-turned-president played baseball and ran cross country for the Navy.

Tommy Lee Jones

When Harvard’s football team went undefeated in 1968, Tommy Lee Jones was there as their offensive guard.

Dwight Eisenhower

As if being a general and all that weren’t enough, this president also played football for the Army.

Dwayne Johnson

Anyone who is surprised by this has obviously failed to notice this wrestler-turned-actor’s cranium-sized biceps. Yes, he played as defensive tackle for the University of Miami when they took the national championship in 1991.

Teddy Roosevelt

The second coolest president ever (after the axe-wielding, vampire slaying Abraham Lincoln) boxed while studying at Harvard.

Kirk Douglas

Before grappling with the challenges of being a movie star, Spartacus wrestled at St. Lawrence University.

George H.W. Bush

Read our lips: if you thought this president was all about politics, you might want to think again. As a left-handed first baseman, the elder Bush was instrumental in getting Yale to baseball’s College World Series in 1948.

Tom Selleck

Before he became a Ferrari-driving private eye on the North Shore, this movie star played basketball for the USC Trojans.


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