Before The World Knew Their Names, These Celebrities Were High School Athletes

It’s hard to believe, but before celebrities became international sensations, most of them were normal, awkward high schoolers. Some of them even took part in their schools’ athletic programs, helping their respective teams win championships and make it to state. Imagine going to the school ice hockey game, only to see Steve Carell padded up in the goal with Avril Lavigne skating down the ice toward him.

That’s right, both The Office star and the pop singer played in high school. Before tabloids and major news outlets wrote articles about their latest movies, television shows, or hit singles, local papers knew these celebrities by their names and high school sports statistics.

James Dean Played Basketball For His High School

James Dean Played Basketball For His High School
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Cultural icon and Golden Age of Hollywood star James Dean was like most other kids in his youth, joking around with friends and playing sports for his high school. While Dean spent part of his childhood in California, he ended up attending Fairmont High School in Indiana.

Back then, he was known as Jimmy, and he played on both the varsity basketball and baseball teams. According to the IndyStar, Dean was “an aggressive and intense perfectionist on the court. When a foul was called on him that he thought unfair, he would yank off those glasses and hurl them to the floor.” James Dean in glasses — fancy that!

Forest Whitaker Played Football

Forest Whitaker Played Football
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Before becoming an Academy Award-Winning actor, Forest Whitaker attended Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles, California. There, he played football and sang in the school choir. But it was the former that earned him an athletic scholarship to college. His football scholarship landed him at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona.

Unfortunately, he ended up injuring his back, needing to leave the sport in order to rehabilitate. This led the actor to transfer to the University of Southern California, where he studied opera music at the Thorton School of Music. Later, he was accepted into their Drama Conservatory.

Kevin James And Mick Foley Were On The Same Wrestling Team

Kevin James And Mick Foley Were On The Same Wrestling Team
Dale Method/Pinterest
Dale Method/Pinterest

Comedian Kevin James attended Ward Melville High School in Long Island, New York, and was part of the wrestling team with future WWE superstar Mick Foley. Both men were in the 145 lb weight class, with James as the number one wrestler on the team and the future champion coming in a close second place!

As things tend to go in sports, James stepped off the mat for good after a back injury, giving Foley the chance to snag the top spot on the team. The two men are still friends today and love to reminisce about their time on the team together whenever they have the chance.

Tom Selleck Played Baseball, Winning An Athletic Scholarship

Tom Selleck Played Baseball, Winning An Athletic Scholarship
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Tom Selleck wasn’t always known as the man with the amazingly awesome mustache. One upon a time, he was a young kid, still very tall, who played baseball for Grant High School in Los Angeles, California, in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

He later earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Southern California, where he played basketball for the Trojans. Yea, we know, plot twist on the sports front. But, honestly, not to stereotype, but someone that size is probably good at any sport he plays. We mean, the guy is six foot four, for crying out loud!

Kate Middleton Was A Field Hockey Player

Kate Middleton Was A Field Hockey Player
Chris Jackson – WPA Pool /Getty Images
Chris Jackson – WPA Pool /Getty Images

Considering she is married to the person who’s second in succession for the British throne, it’s hard to imagine the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton playing any type of sport in high school, let alone one where you have the potential to get down and dirty! But she did.

The Duchess was actually a very fierce competitor in her youth, playing for her school’s field hockey team. During an interview, Duchess Kate said, “Sport has been a huge part of my life, and I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunities I had to get outside and play in such wonderful open spaces – though, sadly, there was nothing quite as glamorous as this in my time!”

Steve Carell Was An Ice Hockey Goaltender

Steve Carell Was An Ice Hockey Goaltender
NBC
NBC

Before he showed off his skating skills as Michael Scott, Steve Carell was on the ice playing goaltender for the Middlesex School ice hockey team in Concord, Massachusetts. And while he enjoyed the sport, the actor didn’t see himself making it into a career. So, he didn’t want to play at a Division I school.

During an interview with ESPN, Carell said, “I had to think about whether I was going to a Division I college hockey program and fight for a job of a goaltender or do something else.” He wound up playing for fun at a small Division III school in Ohio, Denison University.

Before Stardom, Britney Spears Played High School Basketball

Before Stardom, Britney Spears Play High School Basketball
KMazur/WireImage
KMazur/WireImage

After the Mickey Mouse Club was canceled in 1996, the Princess of Pop, Britney Spears, returned home to Mississippi and enrolled in the local high school, McComb’s Parklane Academy. But, according to the pop star, she was very bored and wanted more out of life than a cliquey high school that looked like it was from the opening scenes of Clueless.

So, to take up her time, she joined the school basketball team, playing point guard. It only took a few years after her high school graduation, but Spears became one of the biggest names in the world when her album Baby One More Time hit stores in 1999.

Will Ferrell Was On His High School’s Soccer Team

Will Ferrell Was On His High School's Soccer Team
Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage
Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

Ironically, before becoming the coach in the comedy Kicking & Screaming, actor Will Ferrell was one of the kids. Well, maybe a bit older, but you get the picture. While attending University High School in Irvine, California, Ferrell played various sports, one of which was soccer.

He was also the captain of the basketball team, as well as the kicker for the varsity football team. Sorry, but is anyone else picturing Buddy the Elf lining up for a field goal with a bunch of high schoolers staring at him like he has eight heads? We’re sure it wasn’t like that, but we’d like to pretend.

Matthew McConaughey Played Tennis And Golf

Matthew McConaughey Played Tennis And Golf
Victor Fraile/Getty Images for Mission Hills
Athit Perawongmetha/Getty Images for Mission Hills

Alright, alright, alright, so, Texas rom-com heartthrob Matthew McConaughey wasn’t always an Academy Award-winning actor. Instead, he was nothing but a country boy, playing golf and tennis for Longview High School in Longview, Texas. Although McConaughey loved the game, he didn’t continue playing at the collegiate level.

The number of games he played weekly began decreasing by the time he ventured into film school. But, now that his career is stable, he’s back up to playing multiple games a week when the weather permits. Oh, and he’s the proud owner of a single-digit handicap. Not too shabby!

George Clooney Played Varsity Basketball

George Clooney Played Varsity Basketball
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

When he was younger, George Clooney knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up: a professional baseball player for the Cincinnati Reds. To make that dream a reality, the actor played baseball all throughout his adolescence, first for Augusta High School’s varsity team in Kentucky before trying out for the pros.

In 1977, Clooney took a swing at it and tried out for his childhood dream team, the Reds. To his displeasure, he didn’t make it past the first round of player cuts. That’s good news for fans of his films, though, since the MLB would have taken up a majority of his time.

Geena Davis Is An Accomplished Archer

Geena Davis Is An Accomplished Archer
Jim Pozarik/Getty Images
Jim Pozarik/Getty Images

Okay, bear with us with Geena Davis, since the actress technically didn’t consider herself an athlete in high school. While attending Wareham High School in Massachusetts, Davis was actually more interested in learning music than picking up a ball, racquet, or any other type of sporting equipment.

It wasn’t until later in her life that Davis got very interested in and extremely good at archery! In 1999, the actress was one of 300 women who competed for a spot on the 200 Summer Olympic team. Unfortunately, she placed 24th and didn’t qualify.

Avril Lavigne Was An Ice Sk8R Girl In High School

Avril Lavigne Was An Ice Sk8R Girl In High School
L. Busacca/NHLImages for RCA Records
L. Busacca/NHLImages for RCA Records

Growing up in Ontario, Canada, it’s no surprise that singer Avril Lavigne had her feet in ice skates shortly after learning how to walk. By the age of ten, she was an accomplished right-winger, playing on the local boy’s team before joining the girls’ team at Napanee District High School.

When ESPN asked what her shining moment was during her competitive days, the singer said, “One time I had a breakaway in a game and scored. My dad caught it on tape. That was probably my big shining moment. I also remember getting into fights with the goalies and hearing cheers from the moms because I was the only girl.”

Sheryl Crow Went To State For Hurdles In Track And Field

Sheryl Crow Went To State For Hurdles In Track And Field
Alexandra Wyman/WireImage for BWR Public Relations
Alexandra Wyman/WireImage for BWR Public Relations

Can you imagine walking home from school at the end of the day only to see soon-to-be country superstar Sheryl Crow running around the track and jumping hurdles? Well, that’s exactly what she did back in the day when she attended Kennett High School in Pennsylvania.

There, she was very much invested in the track and field team, making her way to the state championship meet in the 75-meter low hurdles. But that’s pretty much where Crow’s competitive athletic journey ends. Now, she will go for light jogs to clear her mind and keep her body healthy.

Amy Adams Ran Track But Loved To Dance

Amy Adams Ran Track But Loved To Dance
Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Actress Amy Adams was not too fond of high school overall. She attended Douglas County High in Castle Rock, Colorado, but she did enjoy the creative arts and various forms of athletics. During her time in school, Adams was an active member of the track and field team, but her real love was for ballet.

She trained as an apprentice dancer at the David Taylor Dance Company until she realized her dancing wasn’t going to take her to a professional level. Adam’s didn’t have “the right feet.” All the better for her fans, though, since she found love in musical theater, later segueing into the film industry.

Gwen Stefani Was On Her High School Swim Team

Gwen Stefani Was On Her High School Swim Team
TOE/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images
TOE/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

If you can believe it, apparently No Doubt frontwoman and The Voice coach Gwen Stefani thought she was a bit overweight in high school. Because of this, she decided to join the swim team at Loara High School in Anaheim, California, aka the ultimate Southern California high school sport.

Obviously, the now-mom of three can strut around in whatever she wants because her workout regime is on point, and she looks amazing! Nowadays, Stefani’s workout routine is more out of the water and in the gym, where she enjoys boxing and more old-fashioned exercises.

Hugh Jackman Was An Avid Rugby Player

NRL Grand Final Fan Day
Matt King/Getty Images
Matt King/Getty Images

Having played the role of an immortal mutant, it’s safe to say Australian actor Hugh Jackman is one tough cookie. So, it’s no wonder he took up one of his countries favorite sports while he was in high school, one that isn’t for the faint of heart. While attending Knox Grammar School on the Upper North Shore of Sydney, Australia, Jackman was on the rugby and lacrosse teams.

Considering the two sports are contact heavy, it’s safe to assume Jackman enjoyed getting hit in his youth! Today, Jackman enjoys watching the game more than playing. His team of choice is the Eagles.

Kate Hudson Was Pretty Serious About Soccer

Kate Hudson Was Pretty Serious About Soccer
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Fabletics
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Fabletics

With Academy Award-winning actress Goldie Hawn as her mother, it was destiny for Kate Hudson to find her way to Hollywood eventually. But, before that happened, she went to high school at a private college prep school in Santa Monica, California, called Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences.

There, the Fabletics athletic apparel founder was very invested in the girl’s soccer team but gave it up to pursue acting and dance. During an interview with People, Hudson said, “I realized I didn’t want to seriously pursue soccer…It was a really difficult decision for me because I love competitive sport. I miss it to this day.”

Channing Tatum Played Football And Ran Track

Channing Tatum Played Football And Ran Track
George Gojkovich/Getty Images
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Channing Tatum attended Tampa Catholic High School in Tampa, Florida, a private school where, by the end of his senior year, he was voted the most athletic. While he was there, the Magic Mike star ran track and played football, but it was the latter that helped his get into college.

With an athletic scholarship, Tatum played football for Glenville State College in West Virginia. For some reason, it doesn’t surprise us that he got bored of the sport and dropped out, returning home to Tampa to work odd jobs until he was “found” by a modeling agent in Miami.

Gigi Hadid Was A High School Volleyball Star

Gigi Hadid Was A High School Volleyball Star
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

Before she became one of the top fashion models in the world, Gigi Hadid was a typical high school student-athlete. She graduated from Malibu High School in Malibu, California, back in 2013. There, she was captain of the varsity volleyball team.

Considering the model is a solid five feet ten inches, we’re sure she dominated the court and was able to deliver a mean spike over the net. Even though Hadid was a strong competitor, she didn’t pursue the sport in college, opting to move to New York in favor of a modeling career.

Tom Cruise Was A Wrestler

Tom Cruise Was A Wrestler
STR/AFP via Getty Images
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Tom Mapother, aka Tom Cruise, was part of his high school’s varsity wrestling team at Glen Ridge High in New Jersey, where he was also part of the baseball team. According to a former teammate, the former sport was a great fit for the actor.

During an exclusive interview, Cruise’s former teammate TJ said, “It was a perfect fit for him – wrestling helped to control your body and mind. You have to be in perfect shape, and it’s one-to-one combat.” It looks like Cruise had a bit of an anger issue, moving from Kentucky to New Jersey during his youth.

Phil Robertson Went From Being In The Game To Taking It Down

Phil Robertson Went From Being In The Game To Taking It Down
Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images
Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

Known for his role in the reality series Duck Dynasty, Phil Robertson wasn’t always sporting a long gray beard, camo, and a bandana. In fact, before he started hunting game for a living, he was in the game.

During high school, Robertson was very active, playing an array of sports, including baseball, track, and football, where he was all-state. The ladder actually helped the reality star get into college. He played the first-string quarterback position, ahead of Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, for Louisana Tech University.

Joel McHale Was A Walk-On

Joel McHale Was A Walk-On
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images for Nautica
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images for Nautica

Community actor Joel McHale might have been born in Rome, but that didn’t stop him from enjoying American sports. In fact, after high school, the comedian, actor, and TV host decided to play his hand in football, walking-on and playing tight end for the Washington Huskie’s Football Team.

While he only played two years on the scout team and never appeared in an actual game, it takes quite an athlete to make it that far! McHale was also recruited for the university’s rowing team.

Jon Stewart Scored A Winning Goal

Jon Stewart Scored A Winning Goal
Pool/Getty Images
Pool/Getty Images

TV host Jon Stewart grew up playing soccer, something that he pursued in college as a walk-on at William & Mary. Eventually, the comedian went from walk-on to the varsity team, where he helped his team reach a round of the NCAA tournament, scoring the winning goal.

According to his former coach, Stewart wasn’t the best player, but he was a good player with a whole lot of energy. “His journey speaks to the type of person he is. He’s very hardworking and not easily discouraged.”

Matthew Fox Wasn’t The Best Wide Receiver

Matthew Fox Wasn't The Best Wide Receiver
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/WireImage
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/WireImage

Lost actor and Golden Globe-nominee Matthew Fox might be physically built, but that doesn’t mean he had a great experience playing football for Columbia University. In fact, it’s a good thing he didn’t dream of going into the professional league.

During his time at Columbia, Fox played wide receiver for a losing team. Seriously, he lost 44 straight games with a record of 2-38. It’s a very good thing he found his “thing” in acting and not in sports.

Emma Watson Played Field Hockey

Emma Watson Played Field Hockey
Ray Crowder/GC Images
Ray Crowder/GC Images

Actress Emma Watson pretty much grew up on the set of Harry Potter, an amazing experience that didn’t really give her an opportunity to explore high school sports. So, upon the wrap of the final film, the brilliant Watson wound up attending Brown University, where she decided to join a team.

While at Brown, the actress picked up field hockey. It must have been interesting for the opposing team to see Hermione Granger running full speed toward them on the field!

Jamie Foxx Was A Two-Sport Guy

Jamie Foxx Was A Two-Sport Guy
Paras Griffin/Getty Images
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Grammy Award-winning musician and actor Jamie Foxx grew up playing two sports. While attending Terrell High School, Foxx was all about playing basketball as well as the quarterback for his school’s team, passing over 1,000 yards during his “career. His dream was to one day play for the Dallas Cowboys.

Obviously, that dream didn’t come true, and Foxx went in a different direction for his career. Even so, Foxx remains an avid sports fan, especially when it comes to the basketball team, the Dallas Mavericks.

Uzo Aduba Went To BU On A Track Scholarship

Uzo Aduba Went To BU On A Track Scholarship
Bryan Bedder/NYRR via Getty Images
Bryan Bedder/NYRR via Getty Images

Orange Is the New Black actress Uzo Aduba comes from a “sporty family,” something that is very prevalent given her athletic history. While many people now know Aduba as “Crazy Eyes,” she was once known for her epic track and field records.

Aduba attended Boston University on a track scholarship. During her time on the team, she won medals and held more than one record. According to the actress, being a collegiate athlete helped her pursue a career in the tough entertainment industry.

2 Chainz Won A Basketball Scholarship To ASU

2 Chainz Won A Basketball Scholarship To ASU
Leon Bennett/Getty Images for BET
Leon Bennett/Getty Images for BET

Before Tauheed Epps, aka the rapper 2 Chainz, landed a recording deal, he was a teenager attending North Clayton High School in College Park, Georgia. While there, 2 Chainz was very involved with the basketball program. So much so that he wound up earning a basketball scholarship to Alabama State University.

At 6-foot-5-inch, he was a great recruitment choice. The rapper played for ASU from 1995 to 1997, after which he transferred out of the school and attended Virginia State University until graduation.

Nina Dobrev Participated In Pretty Much Everything

Nina Dobrev Participated In Pretty Much Everything
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Actress Nina Dobrev is a woman of many talents. While attending high school in Canada, the Vampire Diaries star participated in pretty much every sport imaginable. Dobrev played soccer, volleyball, baseball on the boy’s team, ballet, jazz, basketball, flag football, and also showed off her skills as a talented rhythmic gymnast.

While she might not be in high school anymore, Dobrev isn’t afraid of friendly competition. She’s often seen snowboarding with friends and participating in celebrity events, such as the Celebrity Beach Bowl.

Denzel Washington Played Basketball For A Club And His School

Denzel Washington Played Basketball For A Club And His School
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Denzel Washington wasn’t always a two-time Academy Award-winning actor. In fact, once upon a time, he was a normal kid playing basketball for his high school and the local Boys and Girls Club. Interestingly, it was the ladder that got Washington interested in playing collegiately.

The Club’s mascot was the Red Raiders, so, obviously, Washington wanted to attend Texas Tech, a university with the same mascot. He wound up a Fordham University, where he played guard for their basketball team.

Tommy Lee Jones, Harvard Offensive Guard

Jones
Harvard/Collegiate Images via Getty Images
Harvard/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

Brains, brawn, and some pretty hefty acting chops… Tommy Lee Jones clearly has it all. At the esteemed Harvard University, the esteemed The Fugitive and Men in Black actor played on the Crimson football team as an offensive lineman.

The English major “would do anything to complete the play, to fulfill the assignment,” said one of his former Harvard teammates. “He would go longer in a drill than most players.”

Jason Sudeikis Was Another Hoopster

2016 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game
George Pimentel/WireImage
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Fans are used to seeing funnyman Jason Sudeikis in a comedic red tracksuit, thanks to his days doing the “Running Man” on SNL, but it turns out that he’s a real-life athlete who played with some pretty famous people.

He was a rising point guard at a few schools in his home state of Kansas before he set his sights on comedy. As he told ESPN, “It was all really, really good basketball players from Kansas City — the Rush brothers [Brandon, JaRon and Kareem] were in there, my brother-in-law played on their team.”

Ellen Still Loves Tennis

U.S. Open - Day 8
Mike Stobe/Getty Images for USTA
M. Von Holden/FilmMagic

Way before she became known as just “Ellen,” the comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres was swinging a tennis racket for her high school’s varsity tennis team.

She still loves to play and will occasionally participate in a celeb tournament or referee a match, as she did between Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick. She also tried to set up international tennis star Naomi Osaka on a date with Michael B. Jordan.

‘Angel’ Elsa Hosk Played Professional B-Ball!

She’s tall, stunning, and Swedish. But supermodel Elsa Hosk is more than a pretty face that happens to walk the runway as a Victoria’s Secret Angel. In fact, she is a former basketball player who took a break from modeling to play the sport she enjoys so much.

“I took a 2 year break [from modeling] because I was a professional basketball player in Sweden,” Hosk told Fashionista. She even called the sport her “first love” in this Instagram post.

Is It Much Of A Surprise That The Rock Has Always Been Athletic?

the rock
Miami/Collegiate Images via Getty Images
Miami/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

This will really come as a surprise to no one, but it’s an interesting bit of fan trivia anyway. Before he became a WWE wrestler and the highest-paid actor in the world, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson played as a defensive lineman for the University of Miami.

Back then he was #94, as seen here. In 2020, his University of Miami rookie card sold for a whopping $45,100. The Rock shared news of the sale with this comment. “Playing in the @NFL was my dream and playing in the Super Bowl was my even bigger dream. Of course, neither dream came true for me….” Don’t feel too bad for him, folks! He’s doing just fine.

Rah Rah! Renée Zellweger Was A Cheerleader!

Renee Zellweger Visits
Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Bridget Jones actress Renée Zellweger was born and raised in Texas, not the UK like her character, and had a healthy Southern hobby: cheerleading for her school when she was in the seventh grade.

She even went on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and showed off her skills, demonstrating a routine she still knows by heart, and calling out “The tiger team is the best yet, get ready, get set!” She still has it.

Jane Lynch Loved Softball And Played Basketball

New York Mets v Chicago Cubs
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

In school, Glee and Party Down actress Jane Lynch was a hoopster even though it wasn’t necessarily her favorite. “I loved softball, but I did play basketball. I didn’t love it so much — I was recruited because I’m so tall.”

Today, she’s a huge Cubs fan, seen here singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch between the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field at a 2012 game.

Terry Crews Played In The NFL

DirecTV
Charley Gallay/WireImage
Charley Gallay/WireImage

Terry Crews, the comedian, actor, activist, and bodybuilder, also has “football player” on his impressive resume. In fact, he was drafted in the 11th round of the NFL Draft to the Los Angeles Rams in 1991 after playing as a student.

He also played for the Rams, the San Diego Chargers, the Washington Redskins (now the Washington Football Team), and the Philadelphia Eagles during his athletic career. Crews retired from the NFL in 1997.

Before He Became Al Bundy, Ed O’Neil Played Football

Denver Broncos v Detroit Lions
Clifton Boutelle/Getty Images
Clifton Boutelle/Getty Images

Well before actor Ed O’Neill was a shoe salesman on the iconic sitcom Married with Children or Sofia Vergara’s husband on Modern Family, he played football.

He was awarded a football scholarship to Ohio University before transferring to Youngstown State University in Pittsburgh, where he was a defensive lineman. He was even signed as an undrafted free agent to the Steelers in 1969, but was cut during training.

Josh Duhamel Was A QB

DIRECTV's Fifth Annual Celebrity Beach Bowl - Game
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for DIRECTV
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for DIRECTV

North Dakota native, actor, and model Josh Duhamel is yet another star with an athletic past. After high school, he attended Minot State University and played as quarterback for the university’s football team before dropping out of school with just one-and-a-half credits to go.

Could he have been another Tom Brady if he’d stayed with the sport? Probably not, according to his stats. But he’s certainly made a successful career out of showbiz!