Their careers at Washington State were nothing alike. Ryan Leaf marched the Cougars to the Rose Bowl in 1997, throwing 33 touchdowns during the regular season, setting what was then a Pac-10 record. He was brash and talented and stayed healthy before his NFL career crumbled, then his life, consumed with addiction to painkillers, disintegrated along with it.
Jeff Tuel played four years at WSU and lost more games than he won for well-documented reasons that stretched well beyond his control. Playing behind an inexperienced, undersized offensive line, he spent more time backpedaling than a shifty politician, but still managed to finish his career as the most accurate passer in Cougars history.
Like their careers in Pullman, they are each attracting attention, but for altogether different reasons.
Leaf, who resides in Montana’s Deer Lodge Prison after repeated clashes with his corrections officer at his drug treatment center in Lewiston, MT, is the subject of a lengthy feature in Playboy Magazine’s September 2013 College Football issue.
The former No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, the story says, has denied dozens of interview requests since he was arrested in 2011 after breaking into an acquaintance’s home and stealing 28 oxycodone pills. The article, “A Hail Mary for Ryan Leaf,” is written by his former cellmate and penpal (for now), John Cagney Nash.
It details his ongoing struggle to beat addiction, and how being labeled the biggest bust in NFL draft history drove him to find solace in painkillers — even after a successful momentary return to the public spotlight buoyed by the release of his biography, 596 Switch.
The excerpts from Playboy’s story reveal a broken man not ready to leave prison.
“My worst humiliation was putting my family through hell.”
Explaining what led him to the pills:
“It wasn’t at all related to the way the drug made me feel, not at the beginning, not ever. It was what I didn’t feel — all that disappointment. I was lonely and sick of being criticized. But the bottom line is, I wanted to get high.”
Trying to sum up how he regretted dismissing those who tried to help him, when being treated for a benign brain stem tumor in 2011 caused a relapse that ultimately led to his arrest:
“I fooled myself into believing I could control it, as all addicts do. I thought I wouldn’t get caught and I would continue on with my life after my treatment was over.”
The story, which to view requires a digital or print subscription, provides a chilling glimpse into what’s plagued Leaf during the past decade, and how he interacted with a now-released cellmate.
But hey, if it elicits sadness, it’s possible to flip the page and immediately be cheered up.
Tuel, meanwhile, captured attention during Buffalo Bills training camp after the seemingly cursed franchise signed him to a non-guaranteed, free agent contract in April. In college, Tuel started 26 games, completed 61.3 percent of his passes and featured a 33-25 TD-to-INT ratio, but few draft analysts felt he was ready to become an NFL backup.
The Bills disagreed.
Buffalo released Tarvaris Jackson in June, then pegged Tuel as the No. 3 quarterback. He has gone on to post a 130.1 quarterback rating in two preseason games and make WSU fans wish the NCAA had granted him another year of eligibility. Tuel’s numbers are impressive: 21 of 26 passes for 236 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
His quest for additional playing time increased Monday when Bills projected starter E.J. Manuel underwent minor knee surgery. Manuel will miss the rest of the preseason. That leaves Tuel the opportunity to compete with Kevin Kolb, a career backup who played poorly in the first two preseason games. Kolb’s camp nearly derailed in early August when he slipped on a wet mat that separates Buffalo’s training fields.
Tuel, in contrast, looks ready for more playing time, as he has finally become the beneficiary of an offensive line that grants him time to throw.