Superman Brandon Routh Shows the Goods

2/13/2006 5:42 PM PST

Superman Brandon Routh Shows the Goods

TMZ unearthed an exclusive photograph of hunky Brandon Routh when he was the swim team captain at Norwalk High School in Iowa.

Athletic Brandon -- whose known as 'BJ' to his family and friends -- beat out big names like Ashton Kutcher, Josh Hartnett and Nicolas Cage, to star in the new $100 million blockbuster 'Superman Returns.'

"BJ's thrilled to be picked to play Superman and I know he's up to the task of taking over from Christopher Reeve. My son is very comfortable in his own skin and he's up for the role of a lifetime," his father tells TMZ.

The 6'2" actor was raised in a modest home by his carpenter father Ron and school-teacher mom Katie with his two sisters and brother. Brandon's former drama teacher, Margo Murillo, knew his calling after his first school play. "Brandon is a naturally gifted actor," she says. "During our production of the Neil Simon play, 'Plaza Suite,' he brought the house down with his performance."

"He's not the kind of guy to go out partying every night but he has a good sense of humor," Murillo added. "One time he had the whole school in stitches after he dressed-up as a hunky male stripper to surprise a teacher."

Routh has had bit parts on 'The Gilmore Girls,' 'Will & Grace' and 'Cold Case.' His attention grabbing break came when Christina Aguilera hand-picked him for her video to the smash hit 'What A Girl Wants.'

Warner Brothers' 'Superman Returns' director Bryan Singer wanted an unknown actor for the part and when the Iowa native walked into their casting office they immediately knew they had their man.

Routh will be the second Iowa-born actor to play the Man Of Steel. George Reeves -- who played the superhero on television in the 1950's -- was also from the 'Hawkeye' State. Reeves was found shot dead in a mysterious suicide at his Hollywood home on June 19, 1959. He was 45.

In another bizarre twist, Routh celebrated his 25th birthday on the day that Christopher Reeve slipped into his coma before passing away the following day.