Rare Photos Of Professional Athletes Back In Their College Days

You know and love them as the professional basketball, soccer, hockey, and baseball (and more) players, who make your city proud by bringing home championships. But before they were playing for the big leagues, they were college students with a dream of being seen by scouts and going pro. Here are the colleges and universities that gave you your favorite professional athletes you root for at every big game.

Tiger Woods – Stanford University

Tiger Woods was something of a golf prodigy from a very young age, so by the time he finished high school, he had college recruiters lining up at his door. In the end, he chose Stanford University, where he studied Economics and played for their NCAA team.

Woods ended up winning three U.S. Amateur titles in a row, as well as the NCAA individual golf championship. As much as he loved Stanford, Tiger Woods was only enrolled for two years, as he left halfway through his degree to pursue professional golf.

Michael Jordan – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In high school, Michael Jordan’s basketball skills shined so brightly that he was recruited by many schools to try and get him to play on their teams. In the end, he went with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and took up a cultural geography major.

He played for the NCAA team there for 3 years and left one year short of graduating to go professional. However, he did return 2 years later to finish his degree and earn a B.A. in geography.

Michael Phelps – University of Michigan

Michael Phelps at a swim meet
Business Insider

Would you believe Michael Phelps was afraid of putting his head underwater when he was young? But when he watched two famous Olympic champions win the gold in 1996, he set his sights on becoming a winner himself. He joined a swim team in high school, where he met his coach, Bob Bowman.

Phelps posing underwater at his university
Sports Illustrated Kids

He ended up going with Bowman to the University of Michigan (where he was coach of the school’s swim team, the Wolverines), and continued his training. When he wasn’t in the water, Phelps was getting his degree in sports marketing and management. 

Serena Williams – Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale

Serena Williams, along with her sister Venus, was fully committed to the tennis court, all day every day. So there was really no time for her to attend college when she finished high school. Instead, she went straight on to a professional (and highly successful) tennis career.

Serena Williams earning her degree from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale

However, she did have another passion aside from tennis, which is fashion design. So, for three years (2000-2003) Serena took up some fashion courses at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale where she learned enough about the fashion industry to start her own clothing line.

Shaquille O’Neal – Louisiana State University

After a super successful high school basketball career, Shaq went on to play for Louisiana State University where he received all types of recognitions including two-time All-American, two-time SEC Player of the Year, and the Adolph Rupp Trophy as NCAA men’s basketball player of the year.

Shaq left LSU after only 3 years, without completing his degree, to pursue his professional career. However, he promised his mother that he would finish his degree, and so in 2000, he went back to LSU to keep his promise and finish his degree (he earned a B.A. in general studies with a minor in political science).

Peyton Manning – University of Tennessee

Peyton Manning fell in love with football when he was young, and he really bloomed in high school when he played starting quarterback for his team. He was so good, that by the time he reached his senior year, he was one of the most wanted high school football players in the country. In fact, he was recruited by around 60 different universities.

Manning ended up choosing the University of Tennessee, and while he loved football, he loved being a student as well. He ended up finishing his degree in only 3 years (a B.A. in speech communication) but went on to complete his 4th year instead of going straight to the big leagues. 

Stephen Curry – Davidson College

Ever since he was young, Stephen Curry wanted to follow in his father’s (Dell Curry of the Cleveland Cavaliers) footsteps and play for Virginia Tech. Unfortunately, he was deemed as too small and thin, so he was offered only a walk-on spot.

In the end, Steph went to play basketball for Davidson College, which had been trying to recruit him since his sophomore year of high school. Curry did not end up finishing his degree, as he left after 3 years to go pro, but he has mentioned that he does intend to finish school eventually.

Barry Bonds – Arizona State 

Barry Bonds almost skipped going to college altogether, as he was recruited by the Sanfransico Giants during his senior year of high school. However, Bonds decided that they were not willing to pay his minimum salary requirement for his baseball talents, so he instead decided to go to college.

He chose Arizona State and went on to earn his degree in criminology. He also played for their team where he earned titles such as The Sporting News All-American selection, tied the NCAA record during the College World Series, and even played for the All-Time College World Series Team.

Drew Brees – Purdue University

Drew Brees played for his high school’s football team and was given honorable mentions on the state and country level. Oddly enough, however, he was not recruited by many schools. Although he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and play for the University of Texas, Brees ended up going with one of the two recruiters scouting him, Purdue University, as the school offered higher quality academics.

While enrolled, Brees joined the Sigma Chi Fraternity, and graduated with a degree in Industrial Management, before going on to pursue his professional football career. 

Tom Brady – University of Michigan

Hate him or love him, Tom Brady is one of the most talented professional athletes in the world at the moment. Interestingly, he almost gave up on his football dreams before they could begin. After enrolling at the University of Michigan, Brady began playing for the school’s NCAA team but found himself spending most of his time on the bench.

This was so frustrating to him that he even began seeing a sports psychologist to vent. Without the opportunity to shine, Tom Brady made himself a backup plan in case football wasn’t in the cards. He graduated with a bachelor of general studies (with a focus in business and economics) and even interned with Merryl Lynch and a few other places to gain experience for the working world. In the end, he did well enough for the Patriots to take him on after graduation to “give him a chance”. Seems to have worked out pretty well for everyone.

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