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TEMPE, ARIZ. -- Brock Lesnar was earning about $9 million a year as a professional wrestler. He owns an eight-seat, twin-engine plane, has a personal pilot and, at 26, lives in a spacious home on 47 acres in Independence, Minn.

 

He won the 2000 NCAA heavyweight wrestling title with the Gophers, catapulted himself to stardom among World Wrestling Entertainment fanatics as "The Next Big Thing," and became the youngest champion in WWE history.

 

Fame, fortune. He had it all.

 

"It was interesting," Lesnar said. "One time, I was walking through the parking lot in Los Angeles. Some guy yells, 'Hey, Brock!' I turn around and it's Shaq. Shaquille O'Neal. He's one of my biggest fans."

 

How cool is that?

 

At first, it was "very cool," Lesnar said. Not anymore.

 

Lesnar walked away from the final five years and about $45 million of his seven-year WWE contract for the chance to play in the NFL, preferably for the Vikings, he said.

 

"I was miserable," Lesnar said. "How many people in life are miserable but don't . . . do anything about it?"

 

If Lesnar makes an active NFL roster, he probably would earn the league's rookie minimum of $230,000 a year. That would drop to about $85,000 if he ends up on a practice squad.

 

Of course, that's assuming someone wants Lesnar. The Vikings are expected to work him out next month but, like every other team, are skeptical because Lesnar hasn't played football since Webster High lost to Aberdeen Roncalli in the first round of the 1995 South Dakota playoffs.

 

"We have interest in everybody that can help," Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "But it will be a tough, tough transition for Brock being that he hasn't played much ball."

 

Lesnar expects to play defensive end. He is a shade taller than 6-3, weighs 290 pounds and has 9 percent body fat, long arms and unusual speed and agility for his size.

 

Obviously, he's strong enough, flexible enough, big enough and quick enough to do it," said Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, who tried to sign Lesnar out of college when Dungy was head coach at Tampa Bay. "And winning an NCAA heavyweight title is harder than playing defensive line. So who knows? The only question is he's 26. How long will it take for him to learn how to play the game?"

 

Why the switch?

 

If it takes a minimum of two years on a practice squad and possibly two seasons in NFL Europe, as some have suggested, then why in the name of WWE founder Vince McMahon is Lesnar doing this?

 

He said he was tired of traveling and performing 280 nights a year. He missed his 2-year-old daughter, Mya, and craved the kind of unrehearsed competition he experienced in amateur wrestling.

 

"I wanted to play football out of college, but I followed the dollar signs instead of my heart," Lesnar said. "I decided I didn't want to look back when I was 50 and wonder if I could have played in the NFL."

 

Last week, as Lesnar neared the end of another steamy day of training at the high-tech Athletes' Performance Institute (API) in Tempe, Ariz., his "performance specialist," Luke Richesson, told him to reach down, grab a barbell weighing more than 500 pounds and stand up with it twice.

 

Shirt off and sweat rolling across bulging tattoos of skulls and demons, Lesnar raised the barbell three times and slammed it to the floor. All day, Lesnar went one step farther than Richesson asked.

 

"This is no load of bull," Lesnar said later. "It's no WWE stunt. I am dead serious about this."

 

The NFL isn't sure how seriously to take Lesnar. The true level of the league's interest won't come until he works out for teams, probably in late June.

 

Lesnar was scheduled to work out for NFL teams at API on May 18, but his training was delayed three weeks following a motorcycle accident. He suffered a broken jaw and left hand, bruised pelvis and pulled groin.

 

"I'm lucky to be alive," said Lesnar, who wasn't wearing a helmet when he collided with a minivan and was thrown over the handlebars of his custom Harley chopper. "If it wasn't for my thick skull, I wouldn't be here."

 

Workouts ahead

 

The workout with NFL teams was rescheduled for June 2, but that was canceled late last week because Lesnar aggravated his groin pull, according to his agent, Ed Hitchcock. Hitchcock said Lesnar probably will work out for teams individually in two or three weeks.

 

Hitchcock said five teams were committed to attending Lesnar's workout Wednesday: Green Bay, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Dallas and San Francisco. Green Bay, Philadelphia and San Francisco confirmed they were going to attend, Dallas said it doesn't comment on workouts, and Kansas City Vice President of Football Operations Lynn Stiles, whom Hitchcock said he had spoken with, didn't return phone calls.

 

Dungy and Tice said representatives from their teams probably would have attended. Baltimore special teams coordinator Gary Zauner has visited Lesnar twice at API and is intrigued.

 

"We're just in the exploring stage right now, but I'd be crazy not to work him out once he's healthy," Zauner said. "He's big, he's strong, and I don't follow that WWE, but some of that acrobatic stuff they do is pretty impressive. Heck, it doesn't cost us much to bring a guy in for a look."

 

Lesnar said he won't be intimidated when he's finally able to work out for teams.

 

"I ain't afraid of anything, and I ain't afraid of anybody," Lesnar said. "I've been an underdog in athletics since I was 5. I got zero college offers for wrestling. Now people say I can't play football, that it's a joke. I say I can. I'm as good an athlete as a lot of guys in the NFL, if not better."

 

Lesnar bench-presses 475 pounds, squats 695 pounds and ran a 4.65 40-yard dash in April when he weighed 280, according to Richesson.

 

"He's the baddest guy to ever walk in this place," Richesson said. "From just a pure speed, strength, power standpoint, no one can match him."

 

Trained for success

 

API is geared toward training elite athletes in every sport. Five of its clients were taken in the first round of the NFL draft this year. Other clients include major league baseball stars Nomar Garciaparra, Curt Schilling and Robbie Alomar, NHL star Nikolai Khabibulin, recently retired NFL defensive end Trace Armstrong and the Twins' Doug Mientkiewicz.

 

"No question Brock is the most unusual client we've had," API founder Mark Verstegen said. "Nobody has ever switched gears like he is. But if anyone can do it, it's Brock."

 

Lesnar was successful in high school as a lineman, linebacker and, eventually, at running back.

 

"Midway through Brock's senior season, I moved him to running back," said Randy Pirner, his high school coach. "We were playing Redfield High School. It was homecoming. Brock had five or six touchdowns and we won 50-0."

 

But Lesnar's only college offers for football came from Division II. So he chose wrestling, "because in wrestling you can really beat a guy up, but in football they blow that whistle."

 

Many NFL officials simply don't believe in experimenting with someone who hasn't played football in nine years. Hitchcock said eight teams rejected Lesnar immediately because of his lack of experience.

 

"Guys who think they can play because they have all the tangibles and they look like Tarzan usually don't make it," said Paul Wiggin, Vikings director of pro scouting. "I personally question whether anyone can just go out and play pro football [with no experience]. I also don't think [Lesnar] will wait around long enough [to develop]. I think he'll go back to pro wrestling."

 

Most of what API does with Lesnar for four hours a day, five days a week is stretch his muscles, feed him nutritional meals and train him to excel in the exercises that he hopes to perform for NFL teams.

 

"His vertical jump is 35 inches," Richesson said. "The best defensive tackles in the NFL draft this year were doing 33 1/2. The best defensive ends were doing 39, but they probably weighed 250."

 

Last week, before Lesnar aggravated his groin injury, Richesson said he was expecting Lesnar to run a 4.7-second 40 on June 2. If Lesnar is that fast, NFL teams will take notice, Dungy said.

 

"Let's put it this way," Dungy said. "If he runs a 5-flat, he will have teams looking to sign him. If he runs 4.7, a lot of people will be fighting over him."

 

The steroids issue

 

Gophers wrestling coach J Robinson knows what you're thinking. Lesnar's 56-inch chest, 34-inch waist, 21-inch biceps and 20-inch neck can't be natural.

 

"The first thing everybody says when they look at Brock is, 'He's on steroids,' " said Robinson, who signed Lesnar out of Bismarck (N.D.) College. "I didn't think he was, but the thing that stuck in my mind was every day that he's here people are going to question whether he's on steroids."

 

So Robinson said he asked Lesnar to take a steroid test. Lesnar said he loved the idea, took the test and passed, according to Robinson and Lesnar.

 

Lesnar said he also passed the NCAA's standard drug test, which includes steroid detection, at two national championships. According to the NCAA, tests are administered randomly. Forty-one wrestlers were tested in 1999 and 44 in 2000. The NCAA won't release the names of wrestlers who were tested but said none tested positive for steroids.

 

Lesnar signed an ethics letter for API stating he doesn't use steroids. The WWE, which often is suspected of having steroid users, doesn't test unless there is cause, said Gary Davis, a vice president for the WWE. Davis wouldn't say how often wrestlers are tested or whether Lesnar ever was tested.

 

NFL teams are skeptical, which is why Lesnar said he has agreed to take an NFL-endorsed drug test before signing with an NFL team. The NFL bans the use of steroids and tests everyone yearly and retests randomly.

 

"I've dealt with the steroids issue forever, but it doesn't bother me because it's kind of a compliment," Lesnar said. "I just thank God for my genetics . . . and the makers of creatine."

 

Creatine, a supplement that increases muscle energy and is in many foods, is not banned by the NFL.

 

What will it take?

 

Lesnar said he started developing strength while growing up on his parents' farm in Webster. He had two hernias by age 6 because he tried to lift whatever his two older brothers lifted.

 

"Brock worked on my farm, and he would get tired of chasing the calves," said John Schiley, Lesnar's high school wrestling coach. "So he'd just pick 'em up and throw them over the fence."

 

Stephen Neal beat Lesnar in the 1999 NCAA finals and went on to win a world championship. He didn't play college football but is now in his fourth NFL season as a backup offensive lineman for the New England Patriots.

 

"Brock will be behind everybody else in camp, but tell him the philosophy of wrestling will help him tremendously," Neal said. "Wrestling is about leverage, getting underneath your opponent to win the battle. That's what line play in the NFL is all about."

 

Vikings defensive tackle Chris Hovan said wrestling in high school helped him.

 

"Defensive linemen are held probably 80 percent of the time," Hovan said. "Wrestling helps you learn moves to break holds and disengage from offensive linemen."

 

Ty Parten, an NFL defensive lineman from 1993 to 2001, has been working with Lesnar on position techniques twice a week at API. He said Lesnar learns quickly and is "very coachable." He also said Lesnar needs one or two years to learn defense but is ready to play special teams.

 

"Special teams is all about heart," Parten said. "Can you imagine that guy running down on kickoffs and punts? Wow."

 

Lesnar said he might go back to the WWE after football. Or join K-1, a Japanese professional fighting circuit.

 

But his dream is playing in the NFL. Some say it's the impossible dream. Historians at the Pro Football Hall of Fame have no record of anyone going from pro wrestling to any kind of success in the NFL.

 

"That's OK; I've always had to fight for everything," Lesnar said. "I wasn't the best technician in amateur wrestling. But I was strong, had great conditioning and a hard head. Nobody could break me. As long as I have that, I don't give a damn what anybody else thinks."

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I mean Goldberg was a freak with football talent (if you play for UGA Bulldogs, you got talent), and he may have gotten into the NFL (Falcons, Rams)...but he never made it anywhere. I mean, football-wise, his claim to fame is being the first ever to be cut by the Carolina Panthers.

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I mean Goldberg was a freak with football talent (if you play for UGA Bulldogs, you got talent), and he may have gotten into the NFL (Falcons, Rams)...but he never made it anywhere. I mean, football-wise, his claim to fame is being the first ever to be cut by the Carolina Panthers.

Uh, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Goldberg get hurt? I'm almost positive he got hurt and never got back to playing speed.

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who knows? The point is, he never did much.

 

The point is, Goldberg actually was deezed AND had football talent. Lesnar is deezed and has, if any, very very raw football talent. Chances are slim, big guy.

I can't agree with you. The guy seems to me to be a natural athlete.

 

If he was JUST a professional wrestler I would say you're probably right. But, he was an NCAA champ and I seriously doubt he's going to have trouble avoiding tackles or shaking loose. Also, I still think he's got a chance and he's a project. Someone COULD invest, but what they get depends on what they invest and Lesnar's shoulders.

 

Also, Goldberg doesn't count BECAUSE of his injuries. You could have all the talent and an injury could happen and ruin it (like Goldberg's case). You can't plan for them. It doesn't mean anything.

 

I think Jay Burson would have been one of the best little white dudes in the NBA, but he broek his neck in college. Career over.

 

Injuries cannot be accounted for.

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when did his injury occur?

 

Lesnar is going to try to be a DE. I just don't see a)how he is going to be able to learn the defenses of an NFL team b)be able to get his technique down with out college football training, and c)be able to read the offense/offensive tackle.

 

He won't be able to use sheer athleticism. He isn't as athletic as a Freeney or Kearse. He'll have to use technique. Technique that takes years of work.

 

I don't think that there will be a single offensive tackle (after camp) that he can beat to the QB. I just don't see it.

 

And I look forward to seeing big backs such as Fred Taylor break through his arm tackles. Unfortunately, Lesnar will probably never see the game field.

 

He may be a beast to us, but I've got friends that are just as athletic that are on a d-1aa team (Furman). I got a friend who benchs 525, squats 700, cleans 400, runs a 4.7 40, and is 6-1, 260 lbs. Lesnar will have to have more than wrestling skills (real and fake) and weightlifting stats to impress me in football.

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