Darren Drozdov finally has found a profession in which he can be himself.
During his days as a defensive lineman at Maryland in 1988 to 1992, Drozdov often battled with members of the coaching staff over his appearance. With his outlandish haircuts, multiple tattoos and various piercings, Drozdov turned quite a few heads at College Park.
And then there are his pets, namely three snakes -- a boa constrictor and two pythons -- and an Argentine horned frog that dines on mice.
Drozdov, however, fits in perfectly with his new employer. In the World Wrestling Federation, he's simply one of the boys.
The 6-foot-3, 270-pound former Terps team captain will be in town tonight when the WWF's popular "Raw is War" program is telecast live on the USA Network from Baltimore Arena.
Drozdov, 29, is still a rookie in the professional wrestling business. He made his ring debut last January with Extreme Championship Wrestling, a regional promotion based in Philadelphia. In May, he joined the WWF, where he is known as Droz, a member of the Legion of Doom tag team.
According to Ravens defensive tackle Larry Webster, Drozdov's former teammate at Maryland, pro wrestling was Drozdov's destiny.
"You always knew he would do something like that," Webster said. "He said he was going to get into that one day. Actually, wrestling may be a little too civilized for Droz."
Although he had aspirations of playing in the NFL, Drozdov said: "[Pro wrestling] was always something I had in the back of my mind. People always said with the way I looked and acted that I'd make a great wrestler. When I was done with football, I figured it was something I would look into."
Drozdov, who graduated from Maryland with a degree in criminal justice, played one season (1993) for the Denver Broncos before his NFL career was shortened by a knee injury.
His most memorable moment in the NFL occurred during a nationally televised preseason game against the Miami Dolphins, when Drozdov lined up across from the center and vomited on the football.
"The cameras just happened to be zooming in, and they caught me spraying the center," Drozdov said. "People kind of tripped out about that, and it was all over the news."
After extensive rehabilitation on his knee and a failed comeback attempt with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, Drozdov turned his attention to pro wrestling.
Drozdov sent a tape of himself working out to the WWF, which apparently liked what it saw. After a meeting with WWF chairman Vince McMahon, Drozdov was signed to a developmental contract.
The move from football to pro wrestling has paid off. Drozdov said he is already earning slightly more than he made with the Broncos, when the league minimum salary for a rookie was $100,000.
"The base contracts [in the WWF] are OK, but basically the sky is the limit with merchandise, video games, T-shirts and pay-per-views," said Drozdov, who is under contract with the WWF for three years with an option year.
For nearly a year, Drozdov learned the ropes from WWF trainer and former pro wrestler Tom Pritchard.
Drozdov quickly realized that pro wrestling was a lot tougher than he thought it would be.
"I didn't know what I was getting into," he said. "There's no comparison [between pro wrestling and football]. Wrestling is that much more physical, that much more strenuous, and I never thought I'd say that going in."
Though pro wrestling can best be described as a soap opera with elements of choreographed athleticism, Drozdov learned the word "fake" doesn't really apply.
"Now I understand why people in the business get really upset when people say it's fake, because it's the farthest thing from fake in this world," Drozdov said. "If it's fake, I guess the two concussions, the broken ribs, the knee surgery and the stitches that I've had [from pro wrestling] are fake, also."
Pro wrestling, in fact, has become more real than ever.
Several months ago, the WWF experimented with the novel idea of pitting pro wrestlers against one another in matches that fTC weren't predetermined. The WWF came up with a tough-man type of tournament featuring matches that were a hybrid of boxing and pro wrestling.
Drozdov made it to the semifinals, where he lost a controversial decision and suffered a torn biceps in the process.
Despite the painful injury, Drozdov worked again later that evening in a traditional pro wrestling bout.
Playing hurt is nothing new for Drozdov. He suffered from chronic back problems at Maryland, yet he toughed it out through many games.
"I have no complaint about his work ethic and the effort he exhibited," said Joe Krivak, Drozdov's coach at Maryland. "The hairstyles and the earrings -- those were all superficial. When you look at Darren's personality below the exterior, he was a good, solid individual."
Even though he's now a part of the circus world of pro wrestling, Drozdov said he has mellowed.
"I'm very laid-back," he said. 'I don't drink anymore, and I stay away from going out too much because it's getting harder and harder with my face being out there.
"When I'm not wrestling, I come home and I sleep. During the daytime, I do a lot of hunting and fishing."
Drozdov said he tries to make it back to College Park at least once a year and still keeps in touch with several former teammates.
He also remembers his detractors at Maryland.
"I heard from a lot of coaches and a lot of players at Maryland that I was never going to amount to anything because of the way I looked and that I would have to conform," Drozdov said.
"Well, guess what? I don't have to. I can have my tattoos, I can have my piercings and I can have my hair however I want. I'm making quite a bit of money for being myself, and I love it."
Pub Date: 11/30/98