PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) He was one of the most promising football players of the late 90s, but he got sacked by the pressure.
Fast forward to now and Ryan Leaf is inspiring others to speak up about mental health and addiction.
"I was the best athlete from where I came from," said Leaf.
The Montana-native was the number two draft pick behind Peyton Manning in 1998. The quarterback played for the San Diego Chargers and the Dallas Cowboys, but the stress became too much for him to handle.
"I fought with the media, I fought with my teammates, and I fought with all the people that tried to help me,” said Leaf.
Leaf quit professional football in 2003, and got hooked on opiates.
"These pills fixed that. It was easy to go to doctors,” said Leaf.
His addiction led him to prison, where he says he ultimately realized he needed to turn his life around. Now, Leaf is traveling the country to try to help others from making the same mistakes. He shared his story in Plattsburgh Wednesday night.
The event was put on by the Substance Abuse Prevention and Recovery Coalition, also known as SPARCC, and the Clinton County District Attorney's Office.
"I've seen too many lives ruined, too many families torn apart, and many lives lost because of this epidemic," said Clinton County District Attorney Andrew Wylie.
“Opiate addiction or alcoholism is very pervasive in our community,” said Diana Aguglia, who works with SPARCC. “They just need to know that we do have a wealth of resources in this community to help and they should reach out."
Plattsburgh resident Amber-Lin Meconi's brother died of an overdose last year.
“We believe in breaking the walls of stigma, opening up to our communities that this epidemic does not discriminate,” said Meconi.
Leaf admits: he thought he could get past addiction all by himself. He wants others to know it's okay to admit to having a problem.
“When it's stigmatized so much, you hide from it, and you don't actually ask for help,” said Leaf. "Hopefully by me doing it, it will give them some courage or confidence to actually be able to go into their parents or a guidance counselor or somebody they feel that can help them and tell them ‘hey, you know, I've been dealing with this.’"
SPARCC says it's already planning another event focused on prevention and recovery that will take place in the next few months.