Lesnar hopes to jump from pro wrestling to pro football

Posted: Tuesday, August 03, 2004

MANKATO, Minn. The money, glamour and perks provided by Brock Lesnar's lifestyle as a professional wrestler just weren't bringing him happiness, so he decided to leave.

Now the former World Wrestling Entertainment champion who performed with the moniker ''The Next Big Thing'' is trying to make a new name for himself in the NFL.

Lesnar hasn't played football since 1995, when he was a high school senior in Webster, S.D. But his brawn, quickness and tenacity were enough to convince the Minnesota Vikings he was worth signing and bringing to training camp as a defensive tackle.

''All I can ask for is the opportunity,'' said Lesnar, a one-time NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion at Minnesota who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds. ''I know I'm a quick learner, and I know I'm coachable.''

He'll have to be. Bodyslams aren't allowed, and nobody wears a feather boa. Success, or lack thereof, is determined solely by his distance from the ball.

''He's got a long way to go before his form is any good,'' coach Mike Tice said. ''We're excited to see his work ethic ... but he's got a long road to haul.''

Lesnar realizes that.

 

Lesnar is shown during Wrestlmania XX March 14 in New York. Better known to WWE fans as "The Next Big Thing," Lesnar signed a contract with the Minnesota Vikings on Tuesday.

AP Photo/WWE, John Giamundo

''I just know I'm athletic,'' he said. ''I've loved football since I was a young kid. I'm not going to make any expectations. ... I just want to do well.''

So does everyone else, it seems.

''He's a great guy, a great athlete,'' WWE spokesman Gary Davis said. ''He made his mark and had quite an accomplished run. Who knows? Once he has pursued his dream of the NFL, maybe he'll want to do something with the WWE again.

''We're very excited for him.''

Teammates, too, are embracing Lesnar's tryout rather than rolling their eyes.

''Brock is a guy with great ambition,'' said tackle Chris Hovan, who is rooming with Lesnar during camp. ''Any chance he needs to get better, I'll help.''

Lesnar insists this isn't a publicity stunt. Then-Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy expressed interest in Lesnar after his college career was over, according to one of Lesnar's agents, Ed Hitchcock.

''Football is something he's always wanted to pursue,'' Hitchcock said.

The tour kept Lesnar on the road about 280 days a year, taking him to all 50 states and 30 countries. Staying at home in the Midwest and being a father to his 2-year-old daughter are more important to him now, though, than the millions he left on the table.

''I'm just a regular guy,'' he said. ''Money's just money. I've been a poor dairy farmer in western South Dakota, and I've been a millionaire. I wasn't any happier.''

Lesnar left the tour in March to start getting in football shape. He wowed trainers at the Athletes' Performance Institute a renowned facility in Arizona that attracts the world's elite with his strength and speed. A scary motorcycle accident in April, however, left him with a broken jaw, a broken hand, a bruised pelvis and a pulled groin and halted progress.

Lesnar was invited to work out for the Vikings in June, once he was fully healed. A second look last week landed him a contract for the league minimum.

That's only if he makes the team, of course, which is a huge long shot though a new rule allowing clubs to keep eight players on their practice squads this season works in his favor.

Vikings defensive line coach Brian Baker remains skeptical, yet supportive.

''Right now we're just trying to get him to the point here he can survive,'' Baker said. ''He's getting better at things, but the things he's getting better at are basically remedial things.''

The Vikings held their first full-pad practice Monday morning, when Lesnar got his first real taste of pro football. Playing with the third-string defense during team drills, his inexperience clearly showed. Up against the third-team offense, Lesnar was stood up at the line and pushed down the field several times.

He did manage to make a tackle.

''He got his first kiss today,'' Tice said. ''He's growing up some.''

Though claiming his first true football experience in nine years ''felt natural,'' Lesnar acknowledged to being ''a little lost.''

''It's been a long time since I've done that,'' Lesnar said.

You've got to start somewhere.

''This morning, I'm that much better than I was yesterday,'' he said, ''and that's what I'm looking for.''



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