At UC Davis, Jeremy Black and Warren Kenzie are model students.High-priced models, in fact. Abercrombie & Fitch types. In demand.
The two also are respected athletes. Black, a junior, is a wrestler. Freshman Kenzie, a swimmer.
Seemingly, they are disparate worlds, modeling and college athletics. Yet Black and Kenzie have discovered similarities between the avocations, which require strong bodies, are highly competitive and can be humbling.
Black, who's been on his back more times than he cares to remember in wrestling matches, has gained greater notoriety with his backside in modeling.
Kenzie, a more accomplished athlete for whom great things have been predicted, knows the sting of summary rejection when he's competed for modeling jobs.
In the main, though, their success in modeling has been stunning. And perhaps more stunning, the two have put school and their sports ahead of jobs that pay $3,000 a day. They've both instructed their agent to hold off on any jobs until their athletic seasons are over this year.
That may seem suicidal in the modeling business, where trends and looks change often. Black and Kenzie don't seem to care.
"When you wrestle somebody and beat somebody you shouldn't beat, how good a feeling is that?" Black asked. "You've worked hard every day, pushing your body to the limit and then push it some more. Same with school. You study hard and get good grades.
"When somebody takes a picture of you standing there, and people like it, I didn't do anything for that. I was just given a look. . . a look that sells something for somebody."
Kenzie, too, said modeling can wait.
"Assuming I don't go bald in the next four years, I can always do modeling after college," Kenzie said. "I'm a chemical engineer major, and I want to get my degree out of the way. After that, I may go to New York, Europe and make some money modeling, have a little fun."
Both have the the same agent, Carmelo Pizzuto. Pizzuto is concerned about the black eye or cut nose Black may show up with, or the green swimmer's hair Kenzie may get. But he understands why they reject job offers.
"It goes back to what is important to them," Pizzuto said. "I actually like models who have lives other than modeling. I think our clients like it too. I have a client in L.A. who wanted Jeremy just a couple of weeks ago, but I had to tell him he couldn't come because he had a wrestling match. He got a kick out of that."
Black wasn't recruited to wrestle at Davis and had no modeling experience coming out of Diamond Bar High School, 50 miles east of Los Angeles. Kenzie was recruited for the Aggies' swim team and modeled his senior year at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo.
"He was a walk-on," Aggies coach Mike Burch said of Black's appearance at Davis four years ago. "His technical skill level wasn't anywhere close to what I considered him to be competitive. But he really loves the sport, the camaraderie on the wrestling team. He's been a backup since he got here, but in the practice room, he is as tough as nails. Our starters have a bona fide workout partner with him.
"He has passed up many a modeling gig for wrestling, something I have never asked him to do. I told him the money is good and he is not going to be good-looking forever and to take the jobs. He won't do it."
Peter Motekaitis, the Aggies swimming coach, expects Kenzie, who swims the individual medley and breast stroke, to have an immediate impact on the swim team.
"He has come in with good times and has a good track record of being a big-meet swimmer," Motekaitis said.
"The one thing I can say about Warren is that he is pretty good-natured. I told my assistant coach that modeling is easy money, but dealing with the guys (teammates) and their ribbing, day in and day out, I don't care how easy the money is."
Black was discovered by noted fashion photographer Bruce Weber when he was attending a high school wrestling camp in Iowa in 1996. Weber often attends such wrestling camps, looking for new faces. He offered Black a chance for some jobs that year and the next, but Black politely declined.
Just before finals of his sophomore year, Black went home to attend a funeral. Again the offer to model. This time Weber was shooting for an Abercrombie & Fitch clothing catalog, and Black, who was "a little bummed out over school and wrestling," decided to give modeling a chance.
Black joined 29 other kids at Lake Placid, N.Y., where the shoot was taking place. After two days of shooting, 20 were sent home. Black survived, even became the star when a playful mishap not only opened the door for him but changed the way Abercrombie & Fitch presented its catalogs.
While Black was waiting his turn to be shot, he was standing on a dock leaning on a boat. The boat started to slide and Black fell in the water. Weber turned his camera to all the commotion and started taking pictures of Black splashing and fooling around.
"Then the Abercrombie & Fitch fashion guy gets all upset, crying "You got my clothes wet, you got my clothes wet' and that I have to take them off," Black recalled. "I kick off my boots and hop onto the dock. Bruce asks if I can go a little further. I take my shirt off and then jump back into the water and take off my pants and boxers. It is at that point that they stage this shot of me climbing out of the water to the dock, reaching for my clothes."
It was that shot -- buttocks side up -- that appeared in the Abercrombie & Fitch Christmas catalog in 1998 that eventually made headlines of whether Abercrombie & Fitch had crossed the line from clothes catalog to pornography.
Black stayed in New York that summer, working as much as he wanted. The money, the experiences -- "I never knew the different ways of life, the different lines of work," he said -- presented Black with the delemma of staying in New York or returning to school. He chose school.
"I decided wrestling is what I wanted to focus on," Black said. "Which means I'm based in Davis, which is very hard because the money in modeling is in New York."
Kenzie, who had five posters splattered in all the Abercrombie & Fitch stores last Spring, was swimming in a high school meet his junior year when a photographer took some pictures of him, told him he should be a model, and offered to make a portfolio for him for free.
Two months later Kenzie got an agent and then landed the Abercrombie & Fitch assignment. It was during that shoot that Black helped lure Kenzie to Davis.
"We met on the plane going to New York," Kenzie said. "I was thinking about going to Arizona and wasn't too keen on Davis. But Jeremy made Davis sound like a really cool place to go to school. I looked into it a little more seriously and I'm glad I came here."
The quick fame, easy money and notoriety have not changed the two. But it has made life more interesting. And humbling.
"Sometimes you go to a testing, give them your (portfolio), and they flip through it and then give it back to you without saying a word," Kenzie said. "It's like they are not even interested, and they really make you feel bad."
But a quick walk around the Davis campus and the self-esteem rebounds.
"I come into a classroom and hear "Oh, that's the Abercrombie & Fitch model,' " Black said. "But even though it seems like everybody knows me or of me, I still have to initiate things and say hi."
Said Kenzie: "It's easier for me to meet girls but harder for me to meet people, make friends, really good friends," Kenzie said.
"I went into an Abercrombie & Fitch store to buy some clothes when my pictures were still up, and some girls said "Oh my God, it's him.'
"Of course, when some people recognize me I also hear, "What's the big deal? He's not that good-looking.' "
Source: Sacramento Bee, January 20, 2000