Roman Reigns is at the apex of the professional wrestling industry as a member of The Shield and one-half of the WWE tag team champions, but what many may not know is that he had a significant football career, particularly during his high school and college years.

A pre-Shield Roman Reigns in one of his first matches on the WWE main roster in September 2012 in Hamilton, Ontario. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea

In his senior year at Florida’s Escambia High School, Joe Anoa’i was rated the 80th-best player in Florida by BorderWars, was named to the second-team All-State Class 5-A honors by the Florida Sports-writers Association, and was named Defensive Player of the Year by the Pensacola News Journal. He was also named to the first-team All-Northwest Florida and recorded 120 tackles, 12 sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions. In his first three seasons at Pensacola Catholic High School he had 96 tackles and six sacks.

Not bad for a kid whose father was a Hall of Fame professional wrestler — Sika, the Wild Samoan.

In 2003, Reigns enrolled at Georgia Tech and played 21 games for the Yellow Jackets as a reserve, recording eight tackles, five of which were solos, a sack, three stops for losses, and two fumble recoveries. Unfortunately, he suffered a left shoulder stinger that caused him to miss one game that season.

The following campaign, Reigns became the team’s right tackle and started 12 games. Injuries beset him again in 2004, with a right shoulder injury that required postseason surgery. Despite that he managed to record 34 tackles, 17 of which were solos, 3.3 sacks, 11 stops behind the one of scrimmage, a recovered fumble and two deflected passes.

During the 2005 season Reigns continued his development and started 11 games at right tackle. He recorded 26 tackles, 16 of which were solos, three sacks, and 6.5 stops for losses, but during the second half of the season had to play through a left ankle sprain.

In 2006, during his senior year at Georgia Tech — as team captain for the Yellow Jackets — he was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team and recorded 40 tackles, 23 of which were solos, 4.5 sacks, nine stops behind the line of scrimmage and two recovered fumbles.

Despite those accomplishments, Reigns went undrafted in the 2007 National Football League Draft. He was later signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Vikings, but released on May 30th. On August 26th, the Jacksonville Jaguars added him to their roster as a defensive tackle, but dropped him five days later.

Joe Anoa’i’s bio at Georgia Tech.

Instead, Reigns signed with the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos for the 2008 season.

“I was up and down on the practice squad and then to the main roster here and there,” recalled Reigns. “So it was kind of sparse when I was playing. I think I played in maybe five or six games or so. As far as the most memorable moment, I actually played against Hamilton. They came to Edmonton and I started and played the whole game. I had a pretty decent game.”

As Reigns recalled, the Eskimos were up by one score and the Tiger-Cats had one final opportunity to either tie the score or take the win.

“The quarterback scrambled and I tracked him all the way across the field,” Reigns reminisced. “He made a cut off one of our cornerbacks and tried to drive in for the first down and I clipped him almost like a spear. From the side he didn’t see me at all and he was in the air when I made contact with him. He had to fly towards the sideline — probably five yards. He fumbled. We recovered the ball, and we sealed the win right there. That was a pretty cool moment. I don’t know if I’ve ever hit anyone that hard though. I knocked the snot out of that guy. He went flying. He helicoptered for at least five or six yards for sure.”

Reigns has fond memories of Edmonton, and recently he had the opportunity to wrestle there as a part of The Shield, performing his second career choice for those he once entertained on the gridiron.

“We were up there not too long ago actually,” Reigns told SLAM! Wrestling. “It was nice to come back and see Edmonton. I really enjoyed Edmonton. It was fun. I met a lot of nice people up there and made some friends. It was a good experience the year I was up there.”

Quarterback sacks notwithstanding, a more memorable moment was his Wrestlemania debut in April at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

“It was a great honour to be in Wrestlemania and to open up the show,” Reigns fondly recollected. “A lot of people don’t realize that’s a huge responsibility to be the very first match because you have to bring that energy and I think we were perfect for that; with pairing The Shield against The Big Show, Sheamus, and Randy Orton. The energy we brought, the six of us, was awesome. For me, though, the coolest moment was once the match was over, and once I got backstage to see my dad [Sika Anoa’i of the Wild Samoans], to hug him and to share that moment with him. Him being a WWE Hall of Famer, knowing exactly what is going on, the type of emotions I felt, it being my first Wrestlemania, to be able to share that with him was a great honour.”

The honour of continuing his family’s proud Samoan legacy in pro wrestling does come with it some pressure.

“It’s humbling, it really is,” acknowledged Reigns. “It’s a huge responsibility for me because our family has been in this business for so long and each generation, each decade, there has always been a dominant Samoan wrestler. It’s a huge responsibility to not only rise to the occasion, but to take that bar and lift it if that’s possible. Break the ceiling and extend the walls and just keep lifting that standard. I think I’m on right track for that. Being a year in, where I’m at, what I’ve been able to accomplish, what my goals are as far as being the top guy and the WWE champion, I think I’ve done the right thing to work towards that point. It’s a huge responsibility and a lot of pressure, but at the same time it’s all in good name. It’s all for the right reasons.”

The Shield — Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns — at WWE Axxess at WrestleMania 29. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea

Still, that doesn’t mean that Reigns hasn’t got his eye on the future; in fact far from it. When SLAM! Wrestling asked him about the idea of having The Shield wrestling The Wyatt Family he was open to it, but felt the timing for that matchup would be critical.

“That seems to be a big fantasy warfare type thing,” elucidated Reigns. “A lot of people have fantasy booked that. I don’t think it’s time for that. I think there still needs to be some development of The Wyatts and what they’re all about. They’re pretty cryptic, pretty deep dudes, especially Bray. I think the more time he has to establish what’s going on with him, and what he’s trying to accomplish, the better because as soon as you get on the dance floor with The Shield you better have your game tight. The last thing The Wyatts want to do is pick a fight with us if they’re not fully prepared, or where they want to be yet, because we can shatter everything they have going on. That’s how serious we are.”

With regards to possible opponents for future WWE tag team title matches, Reigns did admit he had given the matter some thought.

“As far as tag teams, I’ve really enjoyed fighting the Usos,” Reigns relayed. “They seem to really push in the sense of teamwork.” Another brother team, Cody Rhodes and his half-brother Goldust (Dustin Rhodes) upset The Shield in a non-title match at Battleground on Sunday.

One matchup that Reigns wouldn’t mind returning to is Mark Henry, which was scuttled because of an injury to The World’s Strongest Man.

“For a little while there we were kind of starting to tango with the big fellas, The Big Show and Mark Henry,” said Reigns. “I would love nothing more than to hunt and take down like a huge elephant and a rhino and just hang their heads on my wall. So that’s always something I’d like to do; take down the biggest competitors in the WWE, being Mark Henry and The Big Show.”

Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns as WWE tag team champions at the Battleground PPV. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea

Lest there be any doubt, Reigns does harbour hopes for some interesting single matchups too, one of which would be The Undertaker, whom The Shield took down with chairs, and a triple-Powerbomb through the announcing table at Raw after WrestleMania.

“I would do that in front of no one, I would wrestle The Undertaker on my back patio right now even if nobody knew it; that’s how much of an opportunity that would be,” Reigns stated ardently. “Other than winning the WWE Championship that may be the one of the highest things you can do is wrestle The Undertaker on any type of platform. Like I said, I would do it in my backyard for no one. That’s the type of opportunity and story you could tell with that situation. I would love to wrestle The Undertaker.”

Another dream matchup for Reigns would be to face Brock Lesnar.

“It would be a cool matchup, a fun one,” declared Reigns. “I think the intensity between he and I would be second to none. We would be able to paint a picture that seems really intriguing as far as physicality, and just a true battle, just a couple of warriors going at it. That’s something I would really enjoy and I wouldn’t mind that coming up. I wouldn’t mind it being a no-holds-barred match, but even in a regular match with no stipulations, win by either submission or pinfall, without any type of weapons or craziness, I think we could still tell an extremely physical story. Something special could happen inside the ropes. I don’t think we need toys or anything crazy. Just the thought of he and I going at it would be enough.”

As to dealing with Paul Heyman, who would likely be lurking outside during the matchup, Reigns feels he would know how to mitigate his presence.

“I would just jet on him,” replied Reigns. “A lot of people fall to him. They let him brainwash them. I would kind of throw a little of his own magic back at him. I would just kind of ‘leave me alone’; I would Jedi him.”

Before SLAM Wrestling’s interview with Roman Reigns finished, he did mention one other opponent that he felt would be intriguing — Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, whom Reigns is actually related to through the extended Samoan family.

“He’s one of those other guys I’d wrestle in my backyard for no one just for the opportunity,” acknowledged Reigns. “If anything I think he should want to wrestle me because I think we’re one up on him — maybe two up actually. We put him through a table. We powerbombed him so he actually may want to knock on my door.”

Whatever the future may hold there is little doubt that Roman Reigns will be in the thick of things at WWE.