Burt Reynolds remained a Seminole long after short FSU football career

Sept 06, 2018
  • By Mark Bradley
  • Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
HANDOUT/The Palm Beach Post
Burt Reynolds poses in his Florida State uniform. (Burt Reynolds Museum).

Before he was Burt, he was Buddy. Before he was The Bandit he was an All-State football player for Palm Beach High (now Dreyfoos School of the Arts) in West Palm Beach.

Yes, iconic Hollywood movie star, director and sex symbol Burt Reynolds, who died Thursday at age 82, was a star on the football field long before he made women swoon in his string of starring roles in the 70s and 80s.

*PHOTOS: Burt Reynolds through the years

In his movies, Reynolds often played big-screen-sized versions of the fun-loving, good-looking boy who grew up in Riviera Beach and later went on to play football briefly at Florida State University, where one of his roommates was Lee Corso, who later was a college football coach but became famous as an ESPN analyst.

“Burt was a life-long friend, who was extremely close to me for the last 64 years,” Corso said in a statement Thursday. “We have always stayed in touch, through the good and the bad times of our lives, talking about once a month for as long as I can remember. It was just two weeks ago that we were talking about the upcoming college football season and the Noles. Burt, better known as ‘Buddy’ to his friends, loved FSU football and no matter how big a star he became, he never forgot his friends from the FSU football family. I will forever remember our conversations and the true friend that he was.”

Burt Reynolds holds a photograph of former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and himself in Palm Beach Gardens on Aug. 12, 2010. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Reynolds played only parts of two seasons at Florida State before a knee injury ended his football playing days but steered his life toward acting.

Still, his connection to the Seminoles was strong for the rest of his life. Reynolds was frequently around the program and even did a regular spot on “The Bobby Bowden Show,” where he introduced film clips of vintage Seminoles football moments.

Reynolds was an All-State and All-Southern fullback at Palm Beach High and accepted a scholarship to Florida State, where he played parts of the 1954 and ’57 seasons. He suffered a knee injury that led to his return to South Florida, where he took acting classes and set off on his transformation from Buddy to Burt.

Realizing he could no longer play football, Reynolds told his teammates: “I’m leaving. I’m not the player I was. I’m going to go off to Hollywood to be a movie star.”

Over the course of his collegiate career, Reynolds ran for 146 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns.

A bio of Reynolds on Seminoles.com details his brief football career in garnet and gold:

Buddy Reynolds began his Florida State football career with a 33-yard pass reception against the Georgia Bulldogs as a freshman in 1954. A knee injury forced him from the lineup in mid-season and he missed the entire 1955 campaign following surgery. He returned to Florida State in 1957 but once again was sidelined by injury, which ended a promising career. He went on to become one of the most successful actors in box office history and earned an Academy Award nomination in 1999. For years he has hosted a segment of “The Bobby Bowden Show” along with close friend Gene Deckerhoff and he has remained a ardent supporter of Seminole Athletics and the entire university.

(Courtesy of Florida State University)

Reynolds’ playing days ended, but his love for FSU never waned and he made generous donations to the university for uniforms, scholarships and endowments. Reynolds was often spotted on TV attending games, especially during the dominant seasons under coach Bobby Bowden.

The easy-going, dadgummit-dropping Bowden and the affable, witty actor were a pairing straight out of central casting when they stood together on the field before games at Doak Campbell Stadium. One story Reynolds frequently retold was how impressed he was that Bowden knew his real name when they first met. Later, Reynolds realized that Bowden called everyone “Buddy.”

Bowden would use his friendship with Reynolds on some of his many speaking engagements. Before the 2007 season, Reynolds offered to buy the team new uniforms, but Bowden declined his offer. So, Reynolds gave Bowden a check for $50,000 and told Bowden to use it to buy whatever the players needed.

Before a game against Alabama that season, Reynolds and Bowden were on the field together and Reynolds asked what Bowden used the money for.

Bowden, reminding Reynolds that he told him to spend on the money on whatever he thought the players needed most, told the actor: “I gave it to the officials.”

Bowden was traveling on Thursday to watch his son Terry’s team in Akron, Ohio, and could not be reached for comment by The Post.

Acting carried Buddy Reynolds far from Riviera Beach and Tallahassee, but football never left his blood, as he starred in popular gridiron movies “Semi-Tough” and “The Longest Yard.”

Reynolds was elected to the FSU Hall of Fame in 1977.