Defensive Line 2004-2008
Iowa fans have likely seen Anton Narinskiy’s moment of football glory without even knowing.
The highlight wasn’t at Kinnick Stadium. He recorded just six career tackles for the Hawkeyes from 2005-08.
It didn’t even happen in an actual game.
It involved a candy bar and Robin Williams.
Narinskiy, 29, is an actor, appearing in commercials, TV shows, films, and theater. His television credits include minor roles in Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds, and recurring characters on The Young and the Restless and Days of Our Lives.
Perhaps his most well known appearance is the Snickers commercial starring the late comedian. Playing a role all too familiar for the former Big Ten athlete, Narinskiy delivers the first line in the advertisement, asking Williams what the team should do on fourth down.
“Acting was always something I wanted to do, but my life up until the end of college was all football,” Narinskiy said. “I enjoyed the idea of acting, but never dove into it.”
The former Hawkeye’s path to Hollywood is unconventional.
Immigrating to America. Earning a scholarship in an unknown sport. Choosing his passion rather than adapting to a career he excelled at, but didn’t enjoy. Each experience played a vital role in getting Narinskiy where he is today.
Competition is and will always be a driving force for the former Hawkeye.
On the field, in the classroom, or auditioning for a new role, Narinskiy has always strived to be the best.
Born in Russia, he was seven years old when his parents moved to the United States looking for a better life for themselves and three children.
They had no money, no jobs, knew no one in America, and had no understanding of the language. Seeing his parents succeed against all odds instilled a strong belief in himself and a no-fear, risk-taking attitude.
That mindset brought Narinskiy to the gridiron — playing a sport he had never heard of prior to coming to America. When his junior high didn’t have a seventh-grade soccer team, he decided to give football a try and was instantly hooked.
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A standout high school player in Ohio, he earned scholarship offers from Iowa, Stanford, Boston College, and Northwestern.
Despite his athletic abilities, Narinskiy was simply the odd man out at Iowa. He changed positions a handful of times, going from defensive to offensive line, and then back again. Game action was limited being on a defense that featured two of the top defensive lineman in the Ferentz era — Matt Kroul and Mitch King.
The lack of playing time was frustrating, but it built character.
“I’m a competitor first. I came to Iowa with the mentality to play, so it was tough not seeing the field,” he said. “But it kept a certain fire in me, and I think a lot of that helped me transition into the acting world and keep that competitive fire burning.”
The daily grind of being a Division-I athlete didn’t hinder Narinskiy’s studies. By the time his football eligibility ran out, he’d earned a Master’s Degree and was teaching undergraduate accounting classes.
Upon graduating from Iowa, he worked as a fraud investigation accountant in Detroit for the public accounting firm Ernst and Young.
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He started taking acting classes at night — just a couple sessions at first, and eventually attending courses every night of the week.
The performing arts kept him sane from the monotony of the corporate world.
“After college, I was a bit lost,” Narinskiy said. “I went to a public accounting firm, because that’s the route people took with my degree. It was such a drastic shift from competing at a high level. I was depressed and miserable sitting in a cubicle each day. I hated everything about the corporate world. In no way was that where my life was going.”
On his one-year work anniversary, Narinskiy quit his job and committed to acting full-time. He starred in local commercials and independent films in The Motor City for another year before packing up and moving to Los Angeles.
The former Hawkeye has never looked back. Some might be worried about finding work in the cutthroat industry, but Narinskiy’s strong work ethic has translated into success.
He’s worked with well-known actors such as James Franco and Scott Caan, and appeared in commercials for numerous national brands, including Gatorade and Adidas.
The most talented individual Narinskiy has acted with? That distinction goes to Williams.
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The former Hawkeye and Academy award-winner shot several takes of the Snickers ad, improvising different lines to one another. At one point, Narinskiy shouted, “Let’s win this for Mother Russia” — a line Williams liked so much he used it in the commercial.
When he isn’t acting, he’s seeking out ways to get on the set. Whether that means auditioning, honing his craft with additional training, or networking and building relationships with producers.
His chiseled frame, athletic background, and ability to speak multiple languages give him an advantage for military and sports-type roles. His approach to auditioning is high-energy, but stresses the importance of doing little things to set him apart. Things like simply being on time — a trait reinforced by Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle. To Doyle, if you weren’t early, you were late.
“Acting is so competitive, but in the end, the hardest working people will win out,” Narinskiy said. “It’s about doing little things and being proactive. I’m always early, always prepared. I take great pride in working hard. You can say whatever about my talent and acting abilities, but I’ll always work hard.”
That hard work has paid off so far. And those close to Narinskiy have little doubt it will continue to pay dividends. Any time Kroul is asked who he respected the most during his playing days, he doesn’t hesitate putting Narinskiy at the top of his list.
“I’m 99.8 percent sure he will accomplish what he’s set out to accomplish,” Kroul said. “I don’t know what the end game is in acting, but I don’t think he’ll stop until he’s satisfied.”
Narinskiy just finished a commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines, he’ll make a brief appearance in the musical comedy Pitch Perfect 2, and shooting has begun on a new film titled Street, where the former Hawkeye plays the role of a Russian mixed martial arts fighter.
His aspirations aren’t all that different from other actors: bigger roles, collaborating with well-known, talented individuals, and being recognized for his work. He doesn’t set long-term goals because he feels it subconsciously limits his view.
“I just want to be happy and enjoy whatever it is I’m doing,” he said. “But at this point, I can’t imagine doing anything else but acting.”