Ryan Leaf has been hired by ESPN to be a college football analyst, another step in the remarkable comeback of the former Washington State star who has battled drug addiction and been in prison.
Leaf will be paired with game play host Clay Matvick and will mainly call the games on ESPN2 and ESPNU. The former No. 2 NFL selection for the San Diego Chargers in 1998 worked for the Pac-12 network last season and has co-hosted a program on SiriusXM's Pac-12 channel.
Leaf finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1997 and led the Cougars to the Rose Bowl.
After a tumultuous four-year career in the NFL, Leaf's personal life fell apart. He spent two years in prison after being arrested in 2012 for breaking into a home in Montana to steal prescription drugs and for violating his Texas parole.
"Ryan has experienced the ups and downs in the soccer game, which puts him in a position to relate to a wide range of situations in which players can find themselves," said Lee Fitting, ESPN's vice president of production. able to trust those experiences, including an incredible university career in which he was a finalist for All-American and Heisman Trophy, in his analysis, which makes it a tremendous asset for our team. "
Leaf told The AP on Saturday night that after leaving prison in 2014, he tried to make plans for his future and considered three paths: the entertainment industry, law school and sports broadcasting. He took steps towards the entrance of each one.
"I had a degree in television journalism from Murrow School in Washington State, so I had the ability to do it, or at least the know-how, I just did not know what I was going to do," said Leaf.
Leaf, a 43-year-old Montana native, said he approached former players who had made the transition to television, such as Joel Klatt, Brady Quinn and Kirk Herbstreit, and allowed him to follow them on their assignments.
"I realized two things: I really wanted to do it and I felt I could do a good job," said Leaf.
Leaf gave credit to Fox NFL reporter Jay Glazer for supporting and advising him while trying to enter the business; Steve Cohen, vice president of sports programming at SiriusXM, for building a show around him; and the coordinating producer of ESPN for college football Ed Placey for guiding him through the process with the network of all sports.
Greg McElroy, a former ESPN college quarterback who has been a hit on television, overshadowed Leaf when McElroy called the Washington-Southern California state game in Los Angeles last season. That led to an audition in March.
Leaf said he received the call from ESPN with the job offer about a month ago, while driving to a meeting in Los Angeles. He lives in Southern California with his girlfriend and 21-month-old son.
"I had to get off the side of the road, I was very excited," said Leaf.
He hopes to call games across the country and do some studio shows. The path to recovery from addiction that looked so grim on the points for Leaf has become a story to feel good about.
"Five years ago, sitting in a prison cell, I never would have imagined that I would be part of ESPN and the Disney Corporation," said Leaf. "If you had said that to me, I would have said that you are, absolutely crazy, and I can not believe it." I laid my head every night with a lot of gratitude & # 39;