LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — For football fans Ryan Leaf is considered one of the biggest flops in the NFL, but the former quarterback staged a comeback off the gridiron.
CBSLA’s Jeff Nguyen with the story of recovery and redemption that includes helping veterans.
Leaf, who now lives in Los Angeles, spent more than 30 months in prison for a drug conviction. It was almost as long as his football career.
Twenty years ago Leaf was the number two overall pick of the NFL draft. But his time with the San Diego Chargers was peppered with negative headlines like an on-camera blowup with a reporter.
After his short pro football career he developed an addiction to the painkiller Vicodin which he says he was prescribed after a series of surgeries including one to treat a brain tumor.
His wrist still bears the scars of his past.
“I looked up ways to kill yourself on Google,” said Leaf. “And I used a knife to do the ultimate thing.”
Then came prison in 2012. It was the lockup where Leaf got sober and through the encouragement of his cellmate learned to help others.
“He suggested we go down to the prison library and help prisoners who don’t know how to read learn how to read,” said Leaf.
Leaf went to a drug rehab program in Malibu after prison.
He then got a $15 an hour job at Transcend Recovery Community in West LA. It involved driving clients from the sober living house to their appointments.
Leaf had to deal with addicts who didn’t always get with the program.
“No matter what you do you can’t control the outcome of that individual,” said Leaf. “You can try but what they do with your message is entirely up to them.”
Leaf may have lost his NFL money but he worked his way up to become the company’s program ambassador, which includes sharing his story with anyone who would listen.
“My story isn’t more impactful than any other human being,” said Leaf.
One of the things he’s involved in is a program called MVP, which brings together retired pro athletes and military veterans after they hang up their respective uniforms.
Leaf and his wife recently welcomed their first son into the world. He says fatherhood is something he avoided for a long time.
“I initially thought of it as I wouldn’t want to give somebody my last name. My name because of ridicule. But I forget that’s my father’s name. That’s my grandfather’s name. Both veterans,” said Leaf.
Leaf has been sober for more than six years now and he says his son and his wife are just some of the reasons he’s fighting to stay that way.
In addition to working at Transcend, Leaf travels the country to speak to young people about substance abuse. He now has a radio show and works as a college football analyst on television.