While in prison, ex-Chargers QB Ryan Leaf found a purpose

Leaf's time in prison changed his perspective on life (2:05)

Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf explains when he realized he needed help and decided how he was going to pursue it. (2:05)

SAN DIEGO -- After a disappointing NFL career that veered off course because of an addiction to painkillers which ultimately led to prison time, former Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf now appears headed in the right direction.

Leaf, 41, is engaged to Anna Kleinsorge, a 6-foot-3 former Georgetown volleyball player. The couple is expecting their first child -- a boy named MacGyver Fitzgerald, due in October.

“My fiancée, she thought of it,” Leaf said about his son’s name. “And I just looked at her and said, ‘Are you serious? You want to call our boy MacGyver? -- Yes! Yes! Yes!’ She likes it because we can call him Mick. We can call him Mac. We can call him Guy. There’s a bunch of nicknames that can be there. But he’s going to be a big boy, I know that.

“I’m going to have a story for him, that’s for sure. And I’m going to actually be able to give him a perspective probably a lot of parents wouldn’t necessarily be able to give -- but an important one -- which I’m proud of.”

Leaf will appear in an E:60 special at 9 a.m. ET on Sunday. The show examines Leaf’s journey from a top draft prospect to prison and his current battle with sobriety.

He was selected second overall by the Chargers in the 1998 NFL draft behind Peyton Manning, and is often labeled as the biggest bust in draft history. He is now a recovering addict who travels the country, sharing his story to help others as a program ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community.

Immaturity and injuries did not allow Leaf to reach his vast potential with the Chargers. A Washington State product, Leaf finished with a 4-17 career record as a starter for the Chargers (4-14) and the Cowboys (0-3). In three NFL seasons, Leaf threw just 14 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions, was sacked 65 times and completed just 48.4 percent of his passes.

Leaf was charged in the spring of 2013 with breaking into two houses and stealing prescription painkillers near his hometown of Great Falls, Montana.

He later pleaded guilty to burglary and criminal possession of dangerous drugs, spending 32 months in prison.

Leaf now lives in Los Angeles. He discussed his past transgressions, along with his former team's move to the city he now resides in.

“It was sad,” Leaf said, when asked about hearing the news in January about the Chargers moving to Los Angeles. “They’re the San Diego Chargers. And no matter what happened with me, that city and that team gave me my dream. So it was a difficult day when it happened.”

Leaf said he has not talked with anyone from the Spanos family since he was released nearly two decades ago, but he might check out a game this year now that the Chargers are so close in Los Angeles.

“Of course I would, but I don’t know what that looks like,” said Leaf, when asked if he would like to repair his relationship with the organization. “Maybe they don’t want that, because it’s a brand issue and stuff like that. So, I understand, and that’s OK. My part in it was my part in it. And I don’t have any ill will or resentment toward the Chargers anymore.”

Leaf still has memorabilia from his time with the team, including a throwback Chargers helmet he used to wear with the powder blue uniforms, along with his powder blue No. 16 jersey.

Leaf keeps the helmet in his office.

“There’s a few things out there that are meaningful to me, and that’s one of them,” Leaf said about the helmet. “It’s neat. I get to see it every day and it brings good feelings to me, and that’s nice.”

Leaf said the turning point for him came 26 months into his prison sentence. His cellmate, a combat veteran who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq but was serving time for vehicular homicide, told the former NFL quarterback to stop feeling sorry for himself. He asked Leaf to come with him to the library and help teach some fellow prisoners who could not read how to read.

Leaf accepted.

“It was the first time in my life that I was ever of service to anybody but myself,” Leaf said. “At that moment, I didn’t know it was this big, transformational kind of thing. I was just probably pissing and whining as I went down there.

“But you keep doing something and it develops into a habit, just like anything. And eventually it’s a couple weeks later and it’s progress, not perfection. You’re trying to do better each and every day, and that shifted for me. And I knew when I got out of prison, I needed to build a foundation that was built on service.”

Leaf said he remains in touch with his former cellmate, Joshua Pol, who appears in the E:60 documentary.

“He helped me save my life and is a very important person in my life, for sure,” Leaf said.

As far as his message to others, Leaf said that varies depending on the audience he’s addressing.

“When you’re talking to potential professional athletes, I really like to talk about the fact that even though you’re a great athlete, that doesn’t make you a good person,” Leaf said. “And if you can build that foundation first, everything else usually follows suit.

“When it comes to the everyday addict, alcoholic or mental health sufferer, I tend to simply say it’s OK to ask for help. It’s probably the strongest thing you’ll ever do. Being vulnerable is not a weakness. And once you ask for help, you have to be willing to accept it. And that’s about surrender. So, those are the biggest components I try to hit on when I talk to anyone who’s struggling and wants the same kind of thing I have right now.”