Former WSU QB Ryan Leaf gets probation

Former WSU QB Ryan Leaf gets probation
Ryan Leaf leaves the courtroom followed by his mom, Marcia Leaf, in downtown Amarillo, Texas Wednesday, April 14, 2010.
AMARILLO, Texas (AP) - Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf on Wednesday was sentenced to 10 years of probation after pleading guilty to eight felony drug charges in Texas.

State District Judge John B. Board also fined Leaf $20,000. Leaf pleaded guilty to seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and one count of delivery of a simulated controlled substance.

The 33-year-old's mother sat behind him in the Amarillo courtroom during sentencing.

Leaf told reporters after the hearing that he continued to use prescription pain medicine even after he recognized that he had a problem.

"I convinced myself it wasn't a big deal because these weren't illegal drugs," he said, reading from a statement. "But I did have a problem. It finally hit me square in the face in West Texas; I finally had to look squarely in the mirror."

In late 2008 after resigning from West Texas A&M in Canyon where he coached quarterbacks for three seasons, Leaf said he spent 42 days in an inpatient treatment center in Vancouver, B.C., before doing two months of outpatient care. He said he has been clean for 17 months.

Randall County District Attorney James Farren said after the deal was finalized that Leaf's addiction was flagrant and that everyone on the West Texas A&M football team knew about it.

"Everyone knew if you got injured you'd get a visit from Ryan Leaf," Farren said. "And when he left he had half their pain medication."

Leaf, who had been living in Canada, was a star at Washington State but a bust during his four-year NFL career.

His probation will be transferred to Great Falls, Mont., where he was born and now lives.

Leaf, a Heisman Trophy finalist at Washington State, spent four seasons in the NFL after being chosen No. 2 in the 1998 draft - behind Peyton Manning - by the Chargers. He retired after four dismal seasons, best known for his profane off-field outbursts toward fans, coaches and reporters. He finished his career with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.

Leaf's voiced cracked with emotion as he answered questions about his abbreviated pro career and the game.

"I didn't walk away from it lightly and I think people have the wrong impression of that. It hurt me to the core that I wasn't successful at that time," he said. "I don't think people understand how much it hurt for me to walk away from it."

Leaf, who sells vacation and conference packages, said he was introduced to heavy-duty painkillers following surgeries on his shoulders, knees and wrists, and that he realized he was addicted in March 2008.

He was accused of presenting an incomplete medical history to several physicians between January 2008 and September 2008 in his quest to get hold of the painkiller Hydrocodone.

He was also accused of forcing his way into a Canyon apartment in October 2008 and stealing Hydrocodone that had been prescribed to an injured football player. That charge was dropped as part of the plea bargain.

"You just don't ever realize it until it becomes a psychological thing that takes hold of you," Leaf said. "It's such an issue in this country and people don't understand it. If I have to be the one to put a face on it I am more than happy to do it. I'll do whatever I can."

Leaf told Board he wanted the judge to call on him if his story of recovery could help make a difference. The judge immediately took him up on the offer. Leaf was scheduled to speak to a group of at-risk children in the Amarillo area Friday.

If Leaf completes his probation, no convictions would remain on his record but a record of his arrest would remain. If he fails to meet the terms of his probation, he could face jail time, Farren said.

Leaf choked up as he spoke about how he had let his family down.

"You're always kind of covering your tracks to make people believe you're stronger than maybe you are," Leaf said. "I think there's nothing out there now. This is me. I'm naked. I'm as vulnerable as I possibly could be."

He said he unsure if he'll coach again.

"I love what I did. I believe I was good at it. I miss my boys," he said. "But I want to do it on my own terms and I don't want it to follow me around because of this. But I love those boys, and if anybody got the best of me during that time, they did."