Nicholas Petit-Frere has been a WWE fan since he was eight or nine years old.
Justin Hilliard said he grew up “worshipping The Rock.”
Earlier this week, they and their fellow Ohio State teammates Liam McCullough, Davon Hamilton and Shaun Wade had the opportunity to see the WWE up close and in person, as the five Buckeye football players made a two-day trip to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando to learn about the ins and outs of the professional wrestling business.
McCullough, who has been as active as any member of the Ohio State football team in taking advantage of internships and other off-field opportunities during his time with the Buckeyes, described that trip as “a childhood dream come true” and one of his two favorite experiences he’s had through Ohio State’s Real Life Wednesdays program, along with a mini-internship he had last offseason with Goldman Sachs.
“That was just a blast,” McCullough, a fifth-year senior long snapper, said of the WWE trip at Friday night’s job fair for the football team. “We got to hang out with a lot of the superstars from NXT and also from what they call the main roster, the RAW and Smackdown, those bigger shows, some of the more experienced guys. And me, as kind of a childhood fan, I kind of talked about more about kind of the secrets of WWE, things that people that are watching it might not notice or they might not know about what really goes on in the ring, behind the scenes.”
As part of a two-day externship arranged by Ohio State, the five Buckeyes had the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the WWE puts together its shows. They got to spend time with some of the brand’s most prominent stars, including Triple H and Shawn Michaels, and learned about how the WWE recruits athletes and develops its characters. They attended a live show for NXT, the WWE’s developmental brand, after learning about all that goes into making those shows a reality.
Hilliard, who graduated this spring with a degree in marketing, said the externship was a valuable opportunity for him to learn more about how a production like the WWE develops its brand.
“When (assistant athletic director of player development Ryan Stamper) told me a few weeks back, I was going to Orlando to go to WWE, I obviously jumped on the opportunity,” said Hilliard, a fifth-year senior linebacker.
Petit-Frere, the youngest player selected to go on the trip, expressed his gratitude to Ohio State and the WWE for giving him the opportunity in a video produced by Ohio State.
“Getting a chance to be able to actually see the whole process and be a part of it, it’s an experience I can’t repay them for,” said Petit-Frere, a redshirt freshman offensive tackle. “So I’m very appreciative of them putting me down here.”
RLW, meet WWE .— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) June 13, 2019
This week, 5 Buckeyes got the chance to visit the @WWEPC in Orlando, where they went behind the scenes to learn all it takes to create a superstar brand & put on a @WWE performance.#GoBucks #RLW pic.twitter.com/PMd2xzPCtr
Hamilton was also appreciative that he was one of the players selected to go, recognizing that many players on the team would have liked to have that opportunity.
“Every kid watched it at one point in time,” said Hamilton, a fifth-year senior defensive tackle. “They might not have been like a superfan, but everyone watched it at one point in time.”
The players who made the trip don’t necessarily see themselves ever becoming professional wrestlers themselves, but it’s certainly possible that an Ohio State football player could one day end up finding a second career in the ring. Some of the WWE’s biggest stars have been former college football players, including The Rock (Miami) and Roman Reigns (Georgia Tech). Brennan Williams, the younger brother of former Ohio State linebacker Camren Williams, played at UNC and briefly in the NFL before making the transition to wrestling, and he is currently part of the WWE’s NXT program.
Which current Buckeye would be most likely to follow in their footsteps? McCullough initially answered Chase Young, Ohio State’s star defensive end, before quickly changing his answer to tight end Rashod Berry.
“Both, first of all, incredible athletes, massive human beings,” McCullough said. “But Rashod, he’s got the personality and he’s got that kind of performer attitude and that mindset of kind of putting on a show. Seeing the guys down there, Rashod would have fit right in. He’d be a great fit. It’s all about the personality.”
The WWE externship was one of several trips that Ohio State football players had the opportunity to participate in this offseason to learn more about various businesses. Teradja Mitchell, J.K. Dobbins, Jonathon Cooper, Pete Werner and Marcus Williamson spent time in New York at the NFL’s headquarters. Jeff Okudah, Tyreke Smith, Taron Vincent, Baron Browning, Kevin Woidke and Nathan Brock made a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Haskell Garrett, Zach Harrison and Roen McCullough made a trip to California to learn about the biopharmaceutical sales industry at Amgen.
Buckeyes who spent part of their offseasons interning within Columbus have included Chris Chugunov and Jordan Fuller (Porter Wright), Jake Hausmann (PromoWest Live) and Noah Donald (Rapchat), while Jashon Cornell (Blackwell Inn), Gavin Cupp (Student Athlete Support Services Office), Malik Harrison (LiFE Sports) and Derrick Malone (social media for the athletic department) have been interns for various operations at Ohio State.