Breaking:Eastbound US 54 near Brazito closed due to crash
Today's Edition Local News Missouri News National News World Opinion Obits Sports GoMidMo Events Classifieds Jobs Newsletters Contests Search
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
story.lead_photo.caption Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf speaks to William Woods University student-athletes and coaches Friday afternoon at Anderson Arena in Fulton. Photo by Paige Willis/William Woods University

FULTON, Mo. — Ryan Leaf has discovered a peace and contentment that comes with the freedom from the clutter of personal demons, some of them self-inflicted.

The former NFL quarterback — whose promising but brief career and troubled career was followed by myriad mental-health and substance-abuse issues that eventually landed him in prison — delivered the undergraduate commencement address Saturday at William Woods University.

The 42-year-old Leaf, who has turned his life around through advocacy, met with the media for a relaxed question-and-answer session Friday afternoon before talking with William Woods student-athletes and coaches.

"It's an unbelieveable ability to wake up grateful every morning," Leaf said. "I used to create chaos in my life, there was chaos all the time. No matter what, I would create it or something was going on, and it doesn't exist now.

"There's a laid-out plan for each and every day for me, and it's great being a former athlete, to have that stringent and kind of structured lifestyle now. I'm just incredibly grateful."

The strong-armed Leaf was an All-American quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist as a junior at Washington State. Leaf passed up his senior year with the Cougars to enter the NFL draft in 1998 and was selected by the San Diego Chargers as the second overall pick, behind quarterback Peyton Manning to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 1.

Leaf's NFL career, though, was quickly consumed by injuries, dismal play and off-the-field problems. He spent three seasons with the Chargers before being released, then was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001 but was released in the preseason.

Leaf was quickly signed by the Dallas Cowboys and promptly released after failing a physical, then signed again by the team during the season before ultimately being released in May 2002. He was then signed by the Seattle Seahawks but announced his retirement before the start of training camp.

Leaf finished his career with 3,666 yards passing, only 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. USA Today recently ranked Leaf as the NFL's No. 1 all-time draft bust.

"It's difficult (to reflect) because I still go into that default setting of (being) less than — that's where I resided for so long and I was told for so long," Leaf said. " So when I look back on my professional career, I tend to look at it as a failure because that's just all I've known.

"But then I get involved again with the NFL, and NFL Films sends me my professional highlight film, and I was like, 'Oh, my God, I did that — wow!'"

Leaf's life continued to unravel after he left the NFL and plunged to its depth in 2012 when he was arrested on burglary, theft and drug charges in his hometown of Great Falls, Mont. He eventually served more than two years in prison before being released Dec. 3, 2014.

The epiphany that helped route Leaf's path to redemption came from a "guardian angel" — his prison cellmate who had served in the military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"He convinced me somehow — because I was in my victim stance and self-loathing, and selfish, angry way that I had been pretty much my whole life — to go down to the library and help prisoners who didn't know how to read, learn how to read," Leaf said. "After doing that, I found that I had never been of service to another human being in my life.

"That changed the perspective greatly."

Leaf now serves as a program ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community, a substance-abuse recovery organization. He is also the chairman of the non-profit Focused Intensity Foundation, which raises money for mental-health and substance-abuse services for those who can't afford them.

Leaf has even repaired his relationship with the NFL. He was recently hired by the league as a program coordinator for the NFL Legends Community, which assists players in making the sometimes difficult transition to real life after their careers are over.

"When it's all said and done, it almost is a reset," Leaf said. "We need to reset what they think about themselves, what they think about what they've done, how they can move forward in a positive and healthy way."

In addition to his advocacy work, Leaf has a flourishing media career. He is a college football analyst for the Pac-12 Network, SiriusXM Radio and Fox Sports.

"College football, for me, is still the purest form of any (sport) there can be," Leaf said. "It gave me everything — everything I ever wanted, college football gave me.

"I'm more than happy to give back when it comes to that."

Making the decisions that dictate the direction of Leaf's life as he moves forward are pretty simple.

"It's not lost on me that unbelieveable things happen for me when I do the next right thing," Leaf said. "Because I've seen it on the other end. When I make the wrong choices, it's a dumpster fire of a life, right? It's in prison.

"But if I do the next right thing, not just good things happen for me, like unbelieveable things happen for me. That's what makes me super-grateful for what's happened."Gave William Woods' commencement address Saturday

By Ryan Boland

Special to the News Tribune

FULTON — Ryan Leaf has discovered a peace and contentment that comes with the freedom from the clutter of personal demons, some of them self-inflicted.

The former NFL quarterback — whose promising but brief career and troubled career was followed by myriad mental-health and substance-abuse issues that eventually landed him in prison — delivered the undergraduate commencement address Saturday at William Woods University.

The 42-year-old Leaf, who has turned his life around through advocacy, met with the media for a relaxed question-and-answer session Friday afternoon before talking with William Woods student-athletes and coaches.

"It's an unbelieveable ability to wake up grateful every morning," Leaf said. "I used to create chaos in my life, there was chaos all the time. No matter what, I would create it or something was going on, and it doesn't exist now.

"There's a laid-out plan for each and every day for me, and it's great being a former athlete, to have that stringent and kind of structured lifestyle now. I'm just incredibly grateful."

The strong-armed Leaf was an All-American quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist as a junior at Washington State. Leaf passed up his senior year with the Cougars to enter the NFL draft in 1998 and was selected by the San Diego Chargers as the second overall pick, behind quarterback Peyton Manning to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 1.

Leaf's NFL career, though, was quickly consumed by injuries, dismal play and off-the-field problems. He spent three seasons with the Chargers before being released, then was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2001 but was released in the preseason.

Leaf was quickly signed by the Dallas Cowboys and promptly released after failing a physical, then signed again by the team during the season before ultimately being released in May 2002. He was then signed by the Seattle Seahawks but announced his retirement before the start of training camp.

Leaf finished his career with 3,666 yards passing, only 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. USA Today recently ranked Leaf as the NFL's No. 1 all-time draft bust.

"It's difficult (to reflect) because I still go into that default setting of (being) less than — that's where I resided for so long and I was told for so long," Leaf said. " So when I look back on my professional career, I tend to look at it as a failure because that's just all I've known.

"But then I get involved again with the NFL, and NFL Films sends me my professional highlight film, and I was like, 'Oh, my God, I did that — wow!'"

Leaf's life continued to unravel after he left the NFL and plunged to its depth in 2012 when he was arrested on burglary, theft and drug charges in his hometown of Great Falls, Mont. He eventually served more than two years in prison before being released Dec. 3, 2014.

The epiphany that helped route Leaf's path to redemption came from a "guardian angel" — his prison cellmate who had served in the military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"He convinced me somehow — because I was in my victim stance and self-loathing, and selfish, angry way that I had been pretty much my whole life — to go down to the library and help prisoners who didn't know how to read, learn how to read," Leaf said. "After doing that, I found that I had never been of service to another human being in my life.

"That changed the perspective greatly."

Leaf now serves as a program ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community, a substance-abuse recovery organization. He is also the chairman of the non-profit Focused Intensity Foundation, which raises money for mental-health and substance-abuse services for those who can't afford them.

Leaf has even repaired his relationship with the NFL. He was recently hired by the league as a program coordinator for the NFL Legends Community, which assists players in making the sometimes difficult transition to real life after their careers are over.

"When it's all said and done, it almost is a reset," Leaf said. "We need to reset what they think about themselves, what they think about what they've done, how they can move forward in a positive and healthy way."

In addition to his advocacy work, Leaf has a flourishing media career. He is a college football analyst for the Pac-12 Network, SiriusXM Radio and Fox Sports.

"College football, for me, is still the purest form of any (sport) there can be," Leaf said. "It gave me everything — everything I ever wanted, college football gave me.

"I'm more than happy to give back when it comes to that."

Making the decisions that dictate the direction of Leaf's life as he moves forward are pretty simple.

"It's not lost on me that unbelieveable things happen for me when I do the next right thing," Leaf said. "Because I've seen it on the other end. When I make the wrong choices, it's a dumpster fire of a life, right? It's in prison.

"But if I do the next right thing, not just good things happen for me, like unbelieveable things happen for me. That's what makes me super-grateful for what's happened."

COMMENTS - It looks like you're using Internet Explorer, which isn't compatible with our commenting system. You can join the discussion by using another browser, like Firefox or Google Chrome.
It looks like you're using Microsoft Edge. Our commenting system is more compatible with Firefox and Google Chrome.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT