• Thomas A. Wilson

Turning Over a New Leaf

People can be merciless. Just ask Ryan Leaf. Leaf, a successful high school and college athlete, seemed to lead a charmed life. He led the Great Falls, Montana, Charles M. Russell High School Rustlers to a state football championship in 1992. In 1998, Ryan led the Washington State University Cougars to a Pacific-10 Conference championship and the Rose Bowl. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy (college football’s highest honor), finishing third behind Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning. Impressive accomplishments, no doubt.

As a professional player, things didn’t go well for Leaf in the National Football League. NFL Top 10, a product of NFL Films, labeled Ryan the number one draft bust in NFL history. Over the years, others have joined the public flogging with equally negative appellations. Leaf has been eviscerated by just about every troll with a platform.

Their curses, though, weren’t as bad as what Ryan did to himself. Substance abuse and other criminal behaviors landed Leaf in Montana State Prison—a place I know a little something about. Readers of this blog are familiar with my teaching that it’s one thing to take a beating (we all get our lumps in life), but it’s another thing altogether to give someone the stick to beat you with! Underliving men participate in their own vicious mugging.

I don’t recall meeting Leaf at MSP, but he may have attended the orientation I did for new arrivals. The message I conveyed at those orientations was that a man doesn’t have to be defined by his worst moments. Where there’s life, there’s hope. Underliving men can transform. They can become heroic, faithful, productive, clever husbands—and fathers—and neighbors—and friends. And Leaf is doing just that.

Sober and clean, Leaf is Program Ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community—a recovery community with locations in Los Angeles, Houston, and New York. And he created the Focused Intensity Foundation to generate scholarships for people who need, but can’t afford, quality substance abuse/mental health treatment. Ryan just might be doing more for the world through his overcoming ordeal than he would have with a trophy cabinet full of professional football memorabilia.

Ryan Leaf also has a connection to another underliving football player who is currently in the news. For a spell, Leaf coached football at West Texas A&M, part of the Texas A&M University System. In 2012, Johnny Manziel won the starting quarterback job for the Texas A&M Aggies. Manziel went on to win the Heisman Trophy. Sound familiar? It should, because Manziel’s life soon devolved into a train wreck due to substance abuse and other irresponsible behaviors.

Manziel derailed his football career, and maybe his marriage. He issued a public apology to his estranged wife on May 4th. His Instagram message has since been deleted. It seemed heartfelt to me, and I’m hoping he pulls out of the tailspin, but emotion isn’t enough. Authentic men get head, heart, and hands into the game. Intellectual understanding must be balanced with emotional investment and kinetic actualization. Only then is learning complete.

When Authentic Man School: A Practical Guide for Next-Level Living becomes available later this month, I want to get Ryan and Johnny a copy. I wonder, might Leaf deliver Manziel’s copy? I bet it would mean something coming from him. So, reader, let’s see if the internet can give us six degrees of separation. If you have a friend that has a friend that can contact Ryan, tell him a soon-to-retire Associate Warden at Montana State Prison celebrates his new walk—and that there’s a resource for underliving men available soon. Tell him he can check out and follow the related blogs. Contact information is on the site.

You see, Ryan David Leaf really does have it right. He already embraces a Man School principle. His foundation is called Focused Intensity. And that’s how we get even with the trolls. With unwavering focus, we mature into next-level living—while the world watches the haters shrivel from our indifference to their rants.

Ryan Leaf’s birthday is May 15th. Happy birthday, Ryan.


A laser beam is made of the same kind of energy that emits from a child’s toy flashlight. The toy provides diversion, and the laser can weld, cut, scan, measure, point, destroy, print, and entertain. The difference between the two kinds of illumination might be described as a difference in focus—as the difference between dissipation and coherence.

Life, or human potential, is a lot like light. It can shine for a bit until the battery goes dead (like the toy), or it can tap into an energy source that gives focus. Focus releases amazing things.

Affirmation of the Week: I faithfully focus on the ones I love—I serve, support, comfort, and uplift those I’m privileged to share life with.

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