When 5-foot-10, 210-pound linebacker Eric Arndt arrived at Salisbury University in 2007, something about him stuck out for the program's all-time winningest head coach, Sherman Wood.
"He was not scared, No. 1," Wood said in a
Nov. 22 interview
on the "Jobbing Out" podcast. He would go up against a 6-[foot]-8 kid, he would look a 6-[foot]-8 person in their face and tell them that, 'I'm gonna take you down.' … He was one of those kids [that] if you put him on one goal line and put an opponent on another goal line and you had them meet at midfield, Eric Arndt was the type of kid that would probably win that battle. He had a huge heart. Huge heart, and he didn't back down from anybody."
Arndt has gone on to turn that spirit into a very successful professional athletic career. But it hasn't happened in football. Instead the former Sea Gull has found prominence in the world of professional wrestling, taking his brash personality from the gridiron and molding it into a wildly popular character in WWE by the name of Enzo Amore.
Not only is he the current WWE cruiserweight champion, but he's also one of the most entertaining performers on WWE's "Monday Night RAW" and "205 Live" shows thanks to his often hilarious, cocky promos and catch phrases.
"My name is Enzo Amore," Arndt will declare. Crowds of tens of thousands of people then chant along with him: "And I am a certified 'G' and a bona fide stud. And you can't teach that."
Wood, now in his 19th season at Salisbury, could see Arndt's talent and ability to become such a performer when he coached him.
"I am not surprised by what he's doing right now," Wood said. "My first impression of him was like, 'Wow, this guy's pretty serious. He's pretty aggressive.' It was one of those type of intros. I mean, he was very confident, he was aggressive. He said, 'Coach, we're gonna do this, we're gonna do that.' And I thought, 'Wow, this is a new kid in our program; I don't know if he really knows about our program.' But he was very confident and he definitely had a great determination to be successful."
According to Wood, the least surprising part about Arndt's ascension in pro wrestling has been his ability on the microphone.
"When he spoke everyone listened, no doubt about it," Wood said. "It's so strange. This was definitely made for him. What he's doing now was definitely made for him. But I tell you what, he wasn't a bad football player, either. He did some pretty good things for us."
Wood also admitted the abrasiveness Arndt shows in the ring as Amore was often present on the football field.
"He's one of those Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde [types]," Wood said. "It was about competition. When he was involved with competition, he was competitive. When he was off the field, you could have a nice conversation with him and he really cared about a lot of people. He looked after his teammates. He looked after anyone who associated with the team."
Arndt's success on the football field included making 50 tackles during his senior season in 2009. But even then he envisioned something more pugilistic for his future.
"I do recall a couple of times he mentioned about boxing," Wood said. "I do remember that. He talked about boxing and I just thought 'OK, well, he wants to just get everything out in the ring.'
"If he would have had some kind of 9 to 5 office job he probably would be very, very miserable. He couldn't stay still, no doubt about it."
returned to his alma mater
before their Nov. 18 game against Ithaca College. The visit was received very well by Sea Gulls players.
"When practice was over we couldn't get the kids off the field because there was a long line from the 30-yard line on one end all the way to the goal line to get autographs and photos," Wood said.
The pro wrestling star used his visit to offer encouragement to a group of young men whose situations he understands well.
"He was a great speaker," Wood said. "He had the opportunity to speak to our team and a lot of the things he talked about was perseverance; that it's not going to be easy. Things are going to be tough. He provided some examples of how he got into the professional wrestling scene and how tough it was.
"There was a time before we had our locker room in the stadium, we used to walk to the stadium. He talked about that -- walking underneath in the tunnel. At one time it was a grind, but he said now he understands that sometimes you have to go through those things to be successful. From the heart he told our kids it's not going to be easy, but he always said, 'Never quit. Never quit.' That was the message he relayed to our guys."
When Wood introduced Arndt to the Sea Gulls, he playfully suggested that he "had a hard time" coaching the larger than life personality. But he's watched Arndt's pro wrestling career with great joy.
"I'm really, really proud of him," Wood said. "Extremely proud of him."
But does Wood see himself as a "certified 'G'" and a "bona fide stud" as well?
"I wouldn't go that far."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Salisbury Athletics