His NFL-to-prison cautionary tale leaves students transfixed. Here is Ryan Leaf's story, in his own words
By Sam Farmer Contact reporter
March 10, 2017
People might say there was no debate, but don’t believe them.
The football world was deeply divided 19 years ago when the Indianapolis Colts were deciding whether to use the No. 1 draft pick in the NFL draft on Tennessee’s Peyton Manning or Washington State’s Ryan Leaf. There were respected evaluators on both sides of the argument.
The Colts chose Manning, launching a Hall of Fame-caliber career that included five most-valuable-player awards and Super Bowl victories with Indianapolis and Denver.
Leaf was the No. 2 pick by San Diego — one spot ahead of future Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson — and essentially flamed out in his rookie season, although he lasted four more years in the league.
What followed for Leaf was addiction to painkillers, a suicide attempt, imprisonment and, ultimately, a dramatic change that probably saved his life. He’s now the program ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community, a sober-living environment with nine homes in the Los Angeles, New York and Houston areas.
“Ryan’s celebrity and reach in the football world has allowed him to reach tons of people,” said Christian De Oliveira, Transcend’s chief operating officer. “You should hear the phone calls and read the emails, the social media response, and people asking for help because of what Ryan is doing. It’s overwhelmingly positive.”
Sitting in an office in West Los Angeles on Wednesday, Leaf talked via Skype to students from a high school baseball team in Texas, some of whom had gotten in trouble with drugs and alcohol. He told the students his cautionary tale, just as he has to many other young people around the country. The group was so transfixed and motionless during his half-hour talk, it was as if the laptop screen had frozen.
Leaf, 40, who still has a boyish face but for his beard, lives in Los Angeles with his fiancéé, Anna Kleinsorge, a former volleyball player at Georgetown. They are expecting their first child in the fall.
Leaf’s story, in his words:
There was a joke going around campus when I was at Washington State. It went, “What’s the difference between God and Ryan Leaf?” The punchline was, “God doesn’t think he’s Ryan Leaf.”
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