HomeListsEight Country Stars Who Played Football Before Taking Over Nashville

    Eight Country Stars Who Played Football Before Taking Over Nashville

    Did you know that some of your favorite country artists played football in their more anonymous days?

    Country music and football have a lot in common. Both are quintessentially American and both are filled with stories of triumph, underdogs and the more-than-occasional heartbreak. It’s no secret that country and football also have loyal, overlapping fanbases.

    Did you know that some of your favorite country artists played football in their more anonymous days? 

    Check out these eight country stars who were gridiron hot shots well before they became Nashville royalty. These guys definitely aren’t anonymous anymore.

    country stars football
    Photo by Rtr10 / CC0 1.0

    Kenny Chesney

    Nostalgic looks back on the glory days of growing up are a recurring theme in Kenny Chesney’s music. Football was definitely a huge part of the Knoxville, Tennessee native’s coming of age.

    In the mid-1980s, Chesney snagged touchdown passes as a wide receiver at Gibbs High School in Corryton, Tennessee. The experience would later inspire his 2010 hit “The Boys of Fall,” a touching musical memoir about the sense of brotherhood common among high school football teams. ESPN Films adapted the song into a high school football documentary of the same name, which Chesney co-directed. 

    Toby Keith

    There’s no question Keith loves his country, loves this bar and also loves football. 

    Keith’s athletic and musical talents were both evident from a young age. He played football and guitar while growing up in Arkansas and Oklahoma —two pursuits that would define his larger-than-life personality in his early years and beyond. 

    Keith thrived on the football field as a defensive end for Moore High in Moore, Oklahoma. He even had a stint playing semi-pro football for the Oklahoma City Drillers, a farm team for the Oklahoma Outlaws of the then-active United States Football League. While an NFL career wasn’t in the cards for Keith over the long run, he managed to have an impressive career in country music.

    Sam Hunt

    Perhaps the best football player on our list is Nashville hitmaker, Sam Hunt. He enjoyed a storied career as a quarterback at Cedartown High School in Cedartown, Georgia. He was so good that the George Sportswriters Association named Hunt to their Class AAA first-team roster in 2002 — the same year he was declared the state’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year. 

    Hunt went on to play college football at Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. While his college numbers didn’t quite lead to the NFL (he did receive a try-out with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008), Hunt found success in Music City as a songwriter and eventually, as a performer. 

    Willie Nelson

    Before the “Crazy” songwriter and pioneering country outlaw was a household name, Nelson was crazy about football as a high schooler in Abbott, Texas. He was a pretty decent halfback in the late 1940s for the Abbott High School Panthers football program. He also excelled athletically as a baseball shortstop and guard on the basketball team. 

    Any sports career ambitions Nelson may have had faded after high school, though. The timeless star briefly joined the Air Force before studying agriculture at Baylor University. By 1956, Nelson had left college in pursuit of a music career. The move paid off and Nelson has been on the road again and again, crafting classic country tunes for the last six decades and counting. 

    Cole Swindell

    Swindell is a relatively new star making a splash in Nashville and around the country universe. With breakout hits including “Chillin’ It,” “You Should Be Here” and “Middle of a Memory,” the Georgia native wasted no time becoming a familiar fixture on the country charts.

    Swindell was a stud athlete during his days at Terrell Academy where he played football in addition to baseball, basketball, golf and track. 

    In 2018, Swindell filmed a music video for his hit “The Ones Who Got Me Here” at Ken Redmond Stadium, a high school football field in Nashville. In the song, an ode to the folks who supported the artist during his formative years, Swindell references “all the faces in the bleachers,” a definite nod to his gridiron glory days.

    Of course, Swindell is still packing bleachers. But the stadiums are bigger and his sold-out concerts are the main event.

    Garth Brooks

    It seems Brooks, one of the top album and live concert sellers of all time in any genre, is just always amazing at everything he does. 

    The trend of excellence extends back to the “Friends in Low Places” singer’s scholastic days in Yukon, Oklahoma. Brooks played football, baseball and track at Yukon High School. While he excelled in football, it was track and field that secured Brooks a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma where he competed in javelin for the Sooners. 

    Brooks’ passion for football is still evident today. He often remarks about the game while performing in college and professional football stadiums around the nation. 

    Photo by Bert Cash / CC BY 2.0

    Lee Brice

    The irresistibly smooth voice behind “A Woman Like You” and “I Drive Your Truck” was on a decidedly different career path before he was one of Nashville’s most sought-after songwriters and recording artists. 

    Brice grew up loving music and football in South Carolina. After high school, he made the Clemson University Tigers football team as a walk-on, eventually earning a scholarship as a linebacker. Most of Brice’s playing time at Clemson (which is a top contender for a national championship college playoff spot this year) was spent on special teams as a long snapper. 

    Brice ultimately suffered a career-ending arm injury and country became his full-time calling soon thereafter. 

    Trace Adkins

    Adkins is an imposing-looking dude. He’s 6’6” with a brick wall physique. We wouldn’t mess with him and we bet there are some former gridiron opponents who wish they hadn’t either. 

    After an outstanding high school football career, the “Every Light in the House” singer made the Louisiana Tech University football team as a walk-on offensive lineman. Unfortunately, Adkins’ stint with the Bulldogs lasted only one season before a knee injury derailed his football ambitions. 

    It wasn’t long before Adkins was working odd jobs to support his blossoming country career, eventually leading to a record deal with Capitol Nashville.

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