Back From the Gridiron to the Ring

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From the Gridiron to the Ring

By Carlos Pineda
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When Roman Reigns was a kid, all he ever talked about was becoming a wrestler, but he originally deviated from that path, opting to play football at Georgia Tech instead.

Roman Reigns was destined to become a professional wrestler.

The son of Leati “Sika” Anoa'i, one-half of the legendary Wild Samoans tag team, Reigns (born Leati Joseph Anoa'i) is a member of the famed Anoa'i family wrestling dynasty that includes: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Afa” Anoa'i, Rikishi, the late Umaga and the late Yokozuna.

When Reigns was a kid, all he ever talked about was becoming a wrestler, but he deviated from that path, opting to play football instead.

“Once I started playing football, that was kind of my own outlet,” Reigns said in a phone interview with Southern Pigskin. “That’s something I was able to put my signature on and it was my thing. So, for a while, I was really focused on that."

The focus paid off as Reigns, a Pensacola native, played defensive tackle at Georgia Tech from 2003-06, where he was a three-year starter and the Yellow Jackets’ top defensive lineman. He earned first-team All-ACC honors his senior season and helped lead the Ramblin’ Wreck to nine wins and the ACC Coastal Division championship. Reigns had 29.5 career tackles for loss, including 12 sacks.

After Georgia Tech, Reigns went undrafted in the 2007 NFL Draft and had short stints as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2008, he played in five games with the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos, starting three, before being released in November. It was then that Reigns looked deep inside to what made him happy: wrestling.

“I had tunnel vision on the NFL and I had a great career at Georgia Tech, and for a few years there, it looked like things were going to happen in the NFL, but they didn’t,” he said. “So, I always had that in the back of my mind and fully in my heart that I knew if football didn’t work out, wrestling would be something that I know I could enjoy. It’s something I could thrive in and become that star and be a difference maker in this world.”

His father and Uncle Afa shared their wisdom and trained Reigns as he spent two years in World Wrestling Entertainment’s developmental territory. Last November, he, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins made their main roster debut at Survivor Series as the group “The Shield.”

Since their unveiling, the trio has wreaked mayhem against the company’s top names, like John Cena, The Rock, Undertaker, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan, Sheamus and Kane. They have created plenty of buzz in the WWE, from their full SWAT gear ensemble to making their way to the ring through the live audience.

In May, Reigns and Rollins captured the WWE tag-team title, while Ambrose won the United States championship.

After a successful first title defense last month, Reigns and Rollins will defend their belts this Sunday in Philadelphia at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view event against Jey and Jimmy Uso, who are also part of the Anoa'i family.

“This whole process has turned out a little differently than everybody had an idea for it,” Reigns said. “It’s been an exciting process. It’s been like a roller coaster ride. We’ve been shot out there in the past six, seven, eight months. Things have really taken off for us. It’s really been fun.”

Considered The Shield’s enforcer, Reigns finds ways to incorporate his football skills in the ring each night, flipping the switch from calm and collected to intense and aggressive in a matter of seconds.

“That’s what I took from football,” he said. “I hit hard. I only want to hit you once, so I’m going to hit you as hard as I can that first time and, hopefully, it works. If not, I’ll just keep bringing it.”

Much of The Shield's success comes from excellent teamwork and similar goals.

“We work hard, we train hard, we’re smart, we take care of ourselves,” he said. “Really, all we want to do is make the WWE a better place and make tons of memories on the way. That’s definitely bonded us. We're title holders, all three of us, but we had our mind set on that. We knew we were going to do this and this is just on the way.

"These were the very first opportunities we made."


* Photo Credit: The WWE

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.