I'm a graduate of Washington State University and a die-hard San Diego Chargers fan.
That makes the story of Ryan Leaf all the more tragic.
I followed Leaf throughout his college career. He was, in any estimation, one heck of a college quarterback for the Cougars. He was tall, around 6'6", 230 pounds, had a bazooka for an arm, and was quite capable of picking apart most defenses. In 1997, he was a runner-up in Heisman voting in 1997, PAC-10 Player of the Year, and a First-Team All-American.
To anyone who would listen, I bravely predicted he was the second-coming of Brett Favre.
He had swagger. He had moxie. He was a winner!
As you can imagine, my friends and family haven't let me forget that bit of poor judgement on my part.
For the five of you in the world who don't know the saga of Ryan Leaf, here it is in a nutshell:
The San Diego Chargers gave up a king's ransom to the Arizona Cardinals to move up one spot in the 1997 draft to draft Leaf. The Chargers gave up two first-round draft choices, a second-round choice, and three-time Pro Bowler Eric Metcalf.
Leaf went on to alienate teammates, fans, coaches, and ownership in four auspicious years in San Diego. He was considered by many, myself included, to be the worst NFL bust in history.
And that's being kind.
Sure, there have been other massive QB busts: Andre Ward, Tim Couch, Aliki Smith, and Matt Leinert to name just a few.
But Leaf was special.
His teammates hated him. His GM hated him. The sportswriters hated him. The fans booed him.
Bring up the name "Ryan Leaf" in the wrong place in San Diego and you just might get punched in the mouth.
He almost single-handedly brought down the San Diego Chargers for a good five years.
I'm here to tell you—whoever picks Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame will be making the same mistake.
Clausen comes looking like something out of a Walt Disney parade for what a college quarterback should be: blonde, good-looking, storied high-school career, three-year starter at Notre Dame, and gaudy college numbers his last collegiate season.
On paper, Clausen is the kid you build a franchise around.
One of the most telling things about Ryan Leaf was that his high school alma mater doesn't have any mementos of his time at the school.
It's as if they wanted to wipe their history clean of Ryan Leaf.
Ask his college teammates and they'll tell you the exact same thing.
One anonymous wide receiver said it best:
"Ryan Leaf walks around here like his poop don't stink."
I couldn't have said it better myself.
I grew up in Ojai, California, just up the highway from Clausen's high school alma mater of Oaks Christian in Thousand Oaks, California.
Clausen had a storied high-school career and that's putting it lightly.
He was 42-0 as a prep starter. He led Oaks Christian to their first-ever state title. He threw for 48 touchdowns his senior year. He was USA Today's Offensive Player of the Year.
He was the Golden Boy that everyone wanted.
But ask any parent, student, player, or coach who played with or against Jimmy Clausen, and you'll probably hear the same thing.
His reputation was awful at any school he played against. He quite simply thought he was better than everyone else and showed it.
He was the beneficiary of a great offensive line and a superb running back named Marc Taylor, who was also rated USA Today's top schoolboy running back.
There were entire games he never got pressured.
Then, there were the whispers that he was just like his father—a Todd Marinovich-fatherly-type who lived and breathed for his son's football career. He had Jimmy under the tutelage of Steve Clarkston, the celebrated "Quarterback Whisperer"—a private coach for parents who can afford to give their kid the best that money can buy.
He was a true freshman starter at Notre Dame.
His first two seasons at Notre Dame were, in truth, fairly mediocre. The Notre Dame teams were awful.
His junior season he finally delivered on his earlier promise. He finished the season with 3,722 yards passing, a 68.8 percent completion rate, 161.42 passer rating, 28 touchdowns, and four interceptions. Notre Dame finished 7-6 his final year.
Look closer at a lot of his games. He made an amazing amount of miscues to lose games in the final minutes, as opposed to say, Joe Montana, who seemed to shine in the fourth quarter.
His record was a pedestrian 16-18 as a starter.
I don't think that was an accident.
From before he stepped onto the field, he rubbed many people, and teammates, the wrong way, from his mega press conference as a high school senior, to his arriving at Notre Dame in a stretch Hummer, to his reputation as a cocky and brash jock.
I'm not sure that inspires anyone within a locker room.
Even his post-game interviews seemed to suggest that it was everyone else who was responsible for Notre Dame's losing ways.
After a close loss to Navy, he was quoted as saying, "Well, I did everything I had to do to win the game."
In other words, my teammates are a bunch of losers.
Ask anyone in San Diego and they'll probably say that Ryan Leaf had all the ability in the world.
It was his attitude that did him in.
Same thing with Jimmy Clausen.
If I were the General Manager of an NFL team, I would avoid Jimmy Clausen like the plague. Never mind a first-round pick; I wouldn't waste a seventh-rounder on the guy.
In fact, I'd make sure he was as far away from my locker room as humanly possible.
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