Football fundamentals: blocking, tackling, acting and singing

Layout 1AS A YOUNG OREGON SPORTSWRITER in the 1980s, I never saw a high school quarterback who could throw and act like Terrell (Texas) High’s Jamie Foxx or catch and sing like Gibbs (Tennessee) High’s Kenny Chesney.

Ed Asner played on the offensive line at Wyandotte High in Kansas.

Ed Asner played on the offensive line at Wyandotte High in Kansas.RAZ

Then again, I never saw any high school plays or heard any teenage garage bands back then. There could have been a singing southern Oregon linebacker or thespian tackle who escaped my notice — and everyone else’s. If any 1980s-era southern Oregon football players made it as entertainment or political superstars, they’ve kept it awfully quiet.

There’s nothing quiet about the following, who have made more noise on the stage, screen, or stump than they did on the high school football field. In fact, the only restriction for this list is the person cannot be a former NFL star, like Michael Strahan, or college football superstar, like Cornell’s Ed Marinaro, who finished second to Pat Sullivan in the 1971 Heisman Trophy voting.

Let me know if I’ve missed on any first-rate celebrities with prep football backgrounds —I’m sure I have.

QUARTERBACKS: Jamie Foxx, Terrell High (Texas), class of 1986. Phil Robertson, North Caddo High (Vivian, Louisiana), 1965. Forest Whitaker, Palisades High (California), 1979.

MY ONLY BEEF with Foxx’s Oscar-winning performance as Ray Charles (Ray, 2004) was all that beef on his arms, which looked buff from lifting weights, not bruised with heroin needles. Foxx passed for more than 1,000 yards in high school and later portrayed a football player in Any Given Sunday (1999).

Phil robertson as a clean-cut  QB and as a hirsute celebrity.

Phil robertson as a clean-cut QB and as a hirsute celebrity.

Robertson is that “Duck Dynasty” guy; he later played college ball with Terry Bradshaw at Louisiana Tech. Whitaker’s burly physique seems more suited for linebacker, which he played in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), than quarterback. Mark Harmon (“St. Elsewhere,” 1982-88) also played high school and college QB, but what’s the big deal? His dad was Michigan legend and 1940 Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon.

RUNNING BACKS: Burt Reynolds, Palm Beach High (Florida), 1954. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Abilene High (Kansas), 1910. James Caan, Rhodes Preparatory School (New York City), 1957. Willie Nelson, Abbott High (Texas), 1951. Patrick Swayze, Waltrip High (Houston, Texas), 1971. George Strait, Pearsall High (Texas), 1970.

Reynolds and Caan looked like athletes and played major college football, the former at Florida State and the latter at Michigan State. Although he’d been acting for a decade, Caan got his big break by playing real-life running back Brian Piccolo in the 1971 TV movie “Brian’s Song.” Reynolds portrayed football players in The Longest Yard (1974) and Semi-Tough (1977).

Doonesbury's Zonker Harris enjoyed the occasional huddle toke. That looks like football, Willie Nelson-style.

Doonesbury’s Zonker Harris enjoyed the occasional huddle toke. That looks like football, Willie Nelson-style.

It’s hard to imagine Willie Nelson (“On the Road Again,” 1980) as a high school jock, although it’s easier if you picture him as someone like Zonker Harris from Doonesbury, firing up a blunt in the huddle.

Former five-star general and 34th president Eisenhower ranks with Gerald Ford as our finest football-playing chiefs, although the tall and freakishly strong Abe Lincoln could’ve made a dominating, Ted Hendricks-type linebacker.

Strait (“All My Exes live in Texas,” 1987) and Swayze (Dirty Dancing, 1987) are two more Texans, which begs the question: Is high school football a prerequisite to show-biz stardom in the Lone Star State? Sure seems like it.

WIDE RECEIVERS / TIGHT END: Kenny Chesney, Gibbs High (Luttrell, Tennessee), 1986. Ashton Kutcher, Clear Creek-Amana High (Tiffin, Iowa), 1996. Matthew Fox, Wind River High (Pavillion, Wyoming), Deerfield Academy (Massachusetts), 1984. Nick Nolte, Benson High, Westside High (both in Omaha, Nebraska), 1959.

fark_9iFTeC7A7Bb8FL4y2orBmiWhxroNolte, the tight end in this group, portrayed a creaky wide receiver in North Dallas Forty (1979, right). Chesney is one of many high-school-athletes-turned-country-music-stars, a category that includes Tammy Wynette, an all-state basketball player in Mississippi. “Lost” (2004-10) star Matthew Fox went on to play at Columbia University, where the Lions lost 38 out of 40 games — talk about lost. Kutcher (“That 70s Show,” 1998-06) played linebacker as well as wide receiver in high school and has been an assistant coach at Harvard-Westlake High in North Hollywood.

OFFENSIVE LINE: John Wayne, Glendale High (California), 1925. Tommy Lee Jones, St. Mark’s School (Dallas, Texas), 1965. Joe Don Baker, Groesbeck High (Texas), 1954. Ed Asner, Wyandotte High (Kansas), 1948. Hoyt Axton, Robert E. Lee High (Jacksonville, Florida), 1956. Brian Dennehy, Chaminade High (Mineola, New York), 1956. Gerald Ford, South High (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 1931. Warren Beatty, Washington-Lee High (Arlington, Virginia), 1955.

Harvard's Tommy Lee Jones, number 61, leads the way on this run.

Harvard’s Tommy Lee Jones, number 61, leads the way on this run.

Wayne (Stagecoach, 1939) who played at USC, and Jones (No Country for Old Men, 2087) who played at Harvard, are the Oscar-winning guards. Jones started for the 1968 college squad that scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds to tie Yale; he is featured prominently in the 2008 documentary, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.

cn_image.size.04-ford-football-athletic-presidentsFord, the 38th president (right) and Beatty hiked the ball, although the future star of Heaven Can Wait (1979) looked nothing like a hard-nosed center — he was too lean and far too handsome to be a member of the “big uglies,” which is what sportscaster Keith Jackson called offensive linemen. Ed Asner (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” 1970-77), Joe Don Baker (Walking Tall, 1973), and Brian Dennehy (First Blood, 1982) are bigger and less comely than Beatty, although some would describe them as ruggedly handsome rather than homely.

The Axton family had a good year in 1956: Mae Boren Axton’s “Heartbreak Hotel” made Elvis Presley a superstar, and her son Hoyt earned a scholarship offer to Oklahoma State. The Axton boy would later write “Joy to the World (Jeremiah was a bullfrog)” for Three Dog Night.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Chris Farley, Edgewood High (Madison, Wisconsin), 1982. Toby Keith, Moore High (Oklahoma), 1979. Terrence Malick St. Stephen’s Episcopal (Austin, Texas), 1961. Dwayne Johnson (the Rock), Freedom High (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania), 1990. Ed O’Neill, Ursuline High (Youngstown, Ohio), 1964. John Goodman, Affton High (St. Louis, Missouri), 1970.

Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley both played high school football. Take a guess: which one played running back, and which played nose tackle?

Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley both played high school football. Take a guess: which one played running back, and which played nose tackle?

A 5-foot-8, 215-pound nose tackle, Farley (Tommy Boy, 1995) was agile, energetic, and apparently quite good. It’s easy to imagine the Rock (The Tooth Fairy, 2010) and wide-bodied John Goodman (“Roseanne,” 1988-97) stuffing the line, but high school linemen didn’t get much better than Ed O’Neill, who portrayed Al Bundy on “Married with Children.” O’Neill went on to play at Youngstown State and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Steelers. They cut him in favor of a couple of other rookie defensive linemen, Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood.

Malick’s face and physique are unfamiliar to most of us because he’s a behind-the-camera guy with Oscar nominations for directing The Thin Red Line (1998) and The Tree of Life (2011). Toby Keith had a huge-selling 2003 duet with former running back Willie Nelson (“Beer for My Horses”) as well as 19 solo number-one country singles.

LINEBACKERS: John Belushi, Wheaton Central (Illinois), 1967. Brett Michaels, Mechanicsburg High (Pennsylvania), 1981. Jon Hamm, John Burroughs School (Ladue, Missouri), 1989. Chris Klein, Millard West (Omaha, Nebraska), 1997. Kris Kristofferson, San Mateo (California), 1954.

Michaels, who became lead singer for the rock band Poison (“Every Rose Has its Thorn,” 1988) two years after high school, also played quarterback and defensive end. Kristofferson portrayed a pro wide receiver and the best buddy of running back Burt Reynolds in Semi-Tough (1977), and Klein played an injured quarterback reluctantly running for class president in 1999’s Election.

Jon Hamm looking football buff.

Jon Hamm looking football buff.

Belushi (Animal House, 1978) may have honed his physical comedy skills on the football field; it’s a shame he never made a “Samurai linebacker” sketch during his days on “Saturday Night Live.” While Hamm (“Mad Men,” 2007-15) played football, his real sports passion was baseball. He played catcher in high school and was best friends with John Simmons, son of long-time Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Lee Majors, Middlesboro High (Kentucky), 1957. Bill Cosby, Germantown High (Philadelphia), 1953. Dean Cain, Santa Monica (California), 1984. Ryan Seacrest, Dunwoody High (Georgia), 1993.

These actors are often listed as former high school defensive backs, but it’s hard to find specific details about their positions (were they cornerbacks or safeties?). They may have been two-way players who garnered more attention for their offensive skills.

American Idle: Ryan Seacrest grabs a breather during a high school football game.

American Idle: Ryan Seacrest grabs a breather during a high school football game.

Raise your hand if you’re surprised to find Ryan Seacrest (“American Idol,” 2002-14) on this list.

Majors (“The Six Million Dollar Man,” 1974-78), originally named Harvey Lee Yeary, took his last name from a former Heisman hopeful from the University of Tennessee — Johnny Majors. Runner-up to Paul Hornung in the 1957 Heisman, the earlier Majors may be more familiar to college football fans as head coach of the national champion Pittsburgh Panthers team of 1976, as well as a long-time coach at his alma mater, Tennessee.

Cosby (“The Cosby Show,” 1984-92) dropped out of high school after the 10th grade to join the Navy. At Temple University, he excelled at a number of track events (high jump, shot put, low hurdles, javelin and discus) and played fullback on the football team.

Dean Cain (“Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” 1993-97) was a superb all-around athlete who played football at Princeton and signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills. A knee injury ended any hopes of a pro career.

Years before playing the Gipper in "Knute Rockne: All American," Ronald Reagan played football for real at Dixon High in Illinois.

Years before playing the Gipper in “Knute Rockne: All American,” Ronald Reagan played football for real at Dixon High in Illinois.

KICKER / PUNTER: Will Ferrell, University High (Irvine, California), 1986. Ronald Reagan, Dixon High (Illinois), 1928. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Abilene High (Kansas), 1910.

Ferrell’s (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, 2004) field-goal kicking was no joke: He made 14 field goals and 41 extra points his senior year (although he also missed nine PATs). Reagan, the 40th president, could do just fine as the punter, but the multi-skilled Ike is around just in case.

SEPTEMBER 17: Little Mashen, Soviet heroine


ON THIS DATE in 1941, sixteen-year-old Soviet Mariya Borovichenko reportedly captured 10 German soldiers while on a World War II scouting mission.

Nicknamed “Little Mashen from Mousetrap,” Borovichenko once shot and killed two Germans during a rescue of her battlefield commander, according to Henry Sakaida in Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941-45. On another occasion, she single-handedly captured a German officer.

On July 14, 1943, Borovichenko was killed when struck by the shrapnel of an exploding shell moments after she’d disabled a German tank with a grenade.

SEPTEMBER 17: Bugler makes music with cannon fire

32887vAbove: Fallen soldiers and a battered church after the Battle of Antietam. Photo by Alexander Gardner.

ON THIS DATE in 1862, fifteen-year-old Union bugler John Cook unleashed cannon fire on the Confederates during the Civil War Battle of Antietam. By his side, engaged in the same task, was General John Gibbon.

Cook’s heroics began when he spotted Captain Joseph B. Campbell, severely wounded, crawling toward Union lines. The bugler raced through enemy gunfire to retrieve the captain, and then noticed that most of his unit’s cannoneers (cannon shooters) had been killed.

Cook grabbed an ammunition pouch from a dead soldier and began shooting a cannon despite intense fire from Confederate soldiers approaching within 15 feet of the Union guns. General Gibbon noticed Cook’s vigor and took charge of a cannon next to the bugler.

Cook received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Antietam.

SEPTEMBER 15: Marco … Polo!

Marco_PoloON THIS DATE in 1254, Marco Polo was born. At seventeen, he embarked on his historic journey to reach and explore China.

Although Polo introduced European readers to the wonders of China, the great voyage from Venice to the court of Kublai Khan owes as much if not more to the courage and daring of two older Polos. Polo’s father, Niccolò, and uncle Maffeo first braved the 5,600-mile trip in 1253 despite a popular western belief that the Mongols who ruled China were a bloodthirsty lot who would butcher the strangers on sight. In fact, Mongol emperor Kublai Khan proved to be a curious monarch who made the visitors feel so welcome that they returned to China, with young Marco, on a second journey that began in 1271.

Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan

It took the Polos three and a half years to travel from Venice, located in modern Italy, to the Chinese court of Kublai Kahn. Nearly three decades later Marco’s Description of the World, co-written by Rustichello da Pisa, introduced readers to an emperor who found the Venetian youth “wise and far-sighted above the ordinary, and the great Khan was very well disposed to him.” Marco spent 17 years in China, often traveling the country on diplomatic missions that broadened his understanding of the Eastern customs and way of life.

SEPTEMBER 14: Hunger Games published — here comes Katniss

Hunger-Games-Katniss-EverdeenON THIS DATE in 2008, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (portrayed on film by Jennifer Lawrence, above) joined the pantheon of fierce fictional heroines with the publication of Suzanne Collins’ bleak but thrilling The Hunger Games.

“You gotta read this book,” a classmate in the Metro State (Denver) education program told me in 2009, but I resisted. Studying to be a high school English teacher, I’d been devouring young-adult books — The Outsiders, The Giver, The Golden Compass, Speak, Stargirl — on the chance that I might be assigning them someday. I liked these books, and I even liked Twilight, but I was burning out on teens-in-trouble tales.

The-Hunger-GamesWhen I first opened The Hunger Games, I didn’t get very far. The first few pages described Katniss and her little sister and the weight of their dilapidated world in the grimmest tones. I’m not always the keep-it-breezy type, but sometimes I need a break from all the ashes-and-sackcloth stuff.

A few months later I picked up the book again, pushed through the sluggish beginning, and loved it. I hate to pick on Twilight, which critics bash with more gusto than the Cullen clan bash baseballs, but the endlessly resourceful Katniss is such a refreshing change from Bella Swan, who just wants to cling to Edward’s undead arms. Highly moral yet as gritty as a gravel pit, Katniss is a heroine for boys and girls, as well as adults like me.

I liked the sequel, Catching Fire, less than the original (although I still liked it),  and I have yet to read Mockingjay, the last of the trilogy. The 2012 and 2013 films, starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss caught the spirit of the books, I thought. I enjoyed them very much.