Ryan Leaf will be back in Pullman this week and he will surely visit in the future, but there is no going back.
Not really. Not now. Not after New York and Los Angeles and San Diego and Letterman and UpClose and, hey, did we mention an April 13 appearance on the cover of ESPN’s new magazine?
“Wait till you see that one,” Leaf warned. “That will blow you away. I’m on the beach, with no socks or shoes, just some slacks, a black shirt and a red velvet smoking jacket.”
Call him Thurston Leaf III.
“It wasn’t my idea,” Leaf insisted. “They’re trying to go a different way than Sports Illustrated. They’re trying to go with more of the Vanity Fair look.”
Ryan Leaf. Vanity Fair. Different sentences.
“I’m still the same person,” Leaf assured, speaking Friday from New York, where he was holding court at an autograph signing. “Now it’s just a little different.”
It’s been 79 days since Leaf announced he would bypass his senior season at Washington State in order to enter the NFL draft. During that time, he has glimpsed the top of the mountain, and it is good.
“Oh yeah, a lot of fun” he said.
Leaf’s new world will include appearances on ESPN’s UpClose (April 13) and CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman” (April 22).
It no longer includes study hall or finals week, at least not for now. Leaf dropped out of WSU and has moved to Newport Beach, Calif.
He enjoys the services of a personal trainer - thank you, agent Leigh Steinberg - and likes to shoot hoops in the afternoons. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment and said he hasn’t been tempted to trade in his trusty Isuzu Rodeo.
“I’m not going to live materialistically,” Leaf vowed. “I know a lot of guys have got new cars already. I’ve got my same Rodeo. Its been great for me for the last three years. It’s a way to get from here to there.
“The first time I even had a suit was for the Heisman deal,” he added. Leaf said he plans to finish school next spring, when things will be more settled.
The last few weeks have been spent getting back in shape. Leaf had ballooned from 240 to 260 pounds in the weeks after WSU’s 21-16 loss to top-ranked Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
“I was on the banquet circuit, boozing and drinking and partying, eating all this (junk) food, staying in hotels and eating room service at 2 in the morning,” he said.
Along the way, Leaf even made a guest appearance on the TV sitcom “Arli$$” (in which the lead character tries to become Leaf’s agent, only to be upstaged by Steinberg). The segment, which has yet to air, was filmed at Steinberg’s Super Bowl party in San Diego.
Like most of the top college players, Leaf did not work out at last month’s NFL scouting combine, but he has workouts scheduled for Thursday and April 2, both in Pullman. The draft is April 18. Leaf is expected to be chosen by the San Diego Chargers with the second overall pick.
The Indianapolis Colts are expected to draft Tennessee’s Peyton Manning with the top pick. Manning grew up around new Colts coach Jim Mora, who coached in New Orleans when ex-Saints quarterback Archie Manning, Peyton’s father, was one of the team’s broadcasters. NFL scouts agree that Leaf probably has greater potential than Manning, but they say Manning is better prepared to step in immediately. Manning, having spent a lifetime learning from his father, is closer to being a finished product.
“But I don’t think you can lose either way,” said former Seahawks scout Phil Neri, now with the Saints.
Charles Bailey, director of college scouting for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sees a bright future for Leaf.
“He’s a big, strong, tough, competitive kid who has that arm,” Bailey said. “He may not be as fast as the fastest guy out there, but he’s as strong as the strongest. He’s strong enough to throw with guys hanging on him.”
Mora and Colts president Bill Polian plan to attend the April 2 workout, but Leaf, who has family in San Diego, won’t be crushed if they take Manning instead.
“If I go to Indy, I’m the first pick in the draft. If I go to San Diego, I’m living in San Diego,” he said. “So it’s pretty much a win-win situation.”
The Colts recently traded quarterback Jim Harbaugh, while the Chargers lost Stan Humphries to retirement. That means Leaf can expect to play immediately no matter where he ends up.
“Playing right away kind of excites me because I’m so competitive, but it kind of scares me, too,” he said. “I’d like to sit and learn and watch the older guys. But owners aren’t going to allow that to happen. You can’t have a $25 million man sitting on the bench.”
Not in a red velvet smoking jacket, anyway.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo