The Rock’s rise: from football also-ran to ultimate action hero

Meriah Doty
Movie Talk
Dwayne Johnson in 'Snitch'
Dwayne Johnson in 'Snitch'

Dwayne Johnson is arguably Hollywood's reigning action hero. And he could owe it all to a derailed football career.

With four movies out in the next four months, The Rock is rolling. "Snitch" hits February 22; "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" enters theaters March 28; "Pain & Gain" will be released on April 26; "Fast & Furious 6" speeds to screens May 24.

But before racking up 142 acting credits and counting, the 6-foot-4, 40-year-old powerhouse had athletic ambitions.

Everyone knows his pro-wrestling success -- in fact, he is the current WWE champion, enjoying his eighth title. Flash back to the early 1990s, however, and The Rock was better known as a member of "The U."

Dwayne Johnson, playing for the Miami Hurricanes in 1994
Dwayne Johnson, playing for the Miami Hurricanes in 1994

A star high school athlete in Pennsylvania, considered one of the top defensive tackles in the country, Johnson was courted by a slew of Division I colleges. He wound up playing for the University of Miami Hurricanes, starting ahead of future NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp and playing on the 'Canes' 1991 national championship team.

With a nickname that predates "The Rock," Johnson's Hurricanes teammates called him "Dewey." And Dewey is said to have been a goof off, singing country tunes while walking around in a skirt. "He was a highly recruited kid... He was developed and was extremely quick. He was a hard worker and a humble young man," the man who recruited him, Ed Orgeron, told ESPN recently. "Everybody liked him. He was easily coachable and everybody was impressed with him. He came in and played a lot as a freshman."

Johnson played a total of 39 games for the 'Canes,' amounting to 77 tackles and 4.25 sacks. A knee injury ultimately sidelined Johnson, and Sapp took over the starting role. "'I’m here for your job,'" Sapp has recalled telling Johnson. "So that’s how me and him had our introduction to each other. I said it jokingly, but I was there for his job." Orgeron added, "If not for [Sapp], Dwayne could have been an all-conference, perhaps an all-American."
See Johnson Play For Miami:

Johnson was passed up by the NFL but landed a roster spot on the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League. In 1995, though, he was relegated to the practice squad before being cut from the team.

Down but not out, Johnson moved to plan B: wrestling.

You see, his dad was also a pro grappler along with his grandfather, two uncles, and five cousins. And Rocky Johnson showed Dwayne the proverbial ring ropes before throwing him in. Soon after, the younger Johnson was making a name for himself as "The Rock" (in tribute to his father) And the rest is wrestling -- and Hollywood -- history.

In the end, Johnson got to be an NFL star of sorts: Aside from his star movie turns, The Rock saved the world in an awesome "Got Milk?" Super Bowl commercial.

Watch Yahoo! Movies' Exclusive Clip From 'Snitch,' Starring Dwayne Johnson: