Arizona State University has produced a slew of amazing athletes over the years. Several have risen to the pinnacle of their sport and become household names. You’ve certainly heard about former Sun Devils such as Phil Mickelson, Barry Bonds, and Terrell Suggs
On the flip side, we have athletes who achieved success in their respective sports after leaving Tempe. Some of these notables played one sport for the Sun Devils but eventually found success in a different sport.
Today, we’ll shine a light on four sports stars you probably didn’t know called Tempe home during their college years.
Dan Severn (MMA, Pro Wrestling)
Unless you closely followed Sun Devil wrestling in the late-1970s, you may not know Severn’s Tempe connection.
The Michigan native and UFC Hall-of-Famer is considered one of the grandfathers of MMA. He was also a two-time All-American wrestler at ASU and one of the most decorated grapplers in school history
Severn continued in amateur wrestling after his ASU days by representing the US as an alternate on the 1984 and 1988 Olympic teams.
Severn was immersed in MMA by 1994 as an early fighter in the UFC. He gained notoriety by making the finals of UFC 4, a bout he eventually lost to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Royce Gracie. Severn competed in MMA regularly before retiring in 2013, although he continues to make occasional appearances.
He enjoyed success as a pro wrestler on the independent circuit, the WWE, and the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) where he was a two-time World Heavyweight Champion.
Severn has been inducted into the UFC and MMA Halls of Fame.
Isaiah Mustafa (Football)
Mustafa is best known as a suave actor. Since 2005, he has appeared on hit TV shows including NCIS: Los Angeles, Hot in Cleveland, Anger Management, and Love Bites. He’s also scored film roles and serves as the main character in a long-running series of Old Spice commercials.
Before making his mark on Hollywood, Mustafa was an NFL wide receiver between 1997 and 2000.
He held down practice squad spots for the Tennessee Oilers, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, and Seattle Seahawks.
Mustafa was also a wide receiver at ASU in 1995 and 1996 under coach Bruce Snyder. He recorded 23 catches, 289 receiving yards, and two touchdowns for the Sun Devils.
Jake Balsiger (Poker)
Back in the early-2010s, Balsiger was your average ASU student attending classes and indulging in hobbies during his free time. Balsiger’s hobby just happened to be competitive poker, and he just happened to be incredibly good.
So good, in fact, that he pocketed nearly $4 million in prize money and a third-place finish at the 2012 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Final Table. Balsiger’s career earnings from live poker events top $5 million
Before rising to WSOP glory, Balsiger started by playing the sport online, which is the method used by many new poker players. The advantages of playing poker online allow players to learn how to control emotions and nervousness while competing in games around the clock. Balsiger's success proves that it's the right way to get started.
Al Michaels (Sports Broadcasting)
We might be bending our own rules, but any discussion about ASU’s impact on sports is incomplete without mentioning Michaels.
He may not be a notable athlete himself, but few are as associated with the sports world as the famed broadcaster. The former Sun Devil has been beamed into American TVs for parts of six decades as a play-by-play announcer for ABC Sports and NBC Sports.
Few commentators post a resume like Michaels. He called Monday Night Football games for 20 years on ABC before shifting to NBC’s Sunday Night Football in 2006. His gilded voice captured the "Miracle on Ice"–the US Hockey Team’s thrilling victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Michaels has been awarded about every honor available to a sportscaster including the Sports Emmy Award, the Pete Rozelle Radio & Television Award, and the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. In 2021, Michaels received the Ford C. Frick Award by the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his career accomplishments calling MLB games.
Michaels began his storied career as a student sportswriter for The State Press, ASU’s newspaper. He also called Sun Devils basketball, baseball, and football games on campus radio.
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